Tag Archives: ammonite

Split ammonite fossil earrings in 14K gold fill.

Split ammonite fossil earrings in 14K gold fill.

Since today is National Fossil DayTM, I wanted to do a bit of a show-and-tell. I love working with fossils in my jewelry, and a number of them have ended up on here, so I thought I’d do a brief overview of the ones I use most often

 

Fossils are fascinating. Just think for a minute about the intricacy of ancient life that they preserve. They’re like little time capsules.

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Child of the wandering sea

The Chambered Nautilus

 

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

 

 

This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,

Sails the unshadowed main,—

The venturous bark that flings

On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings

In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,

And coral reefs lie bare, Continue reading

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Fossil Monochrome

orthoceras

 

straight horned fusillade,

storm of black and white bullets

shot through ancient seas

racing head and foot into

eternity’s sediments

 

Orthoceras are ancient mollusks. They first emerged nearly 500 million years ago and went extinct nearly 200 million years ago. (They existed from the Ordovician through the Triassic. They had a 200 million year overlap with their younger cephalopod cousins, the ammonites.)

 

Imagining orthoceras alive.

 

Their name is descriptive, it means straight horn. They were soft bodied creatures that lived in the newest segment of the shell. Periodically they would grow a separating wall called a septa and close off the too small part of the shell. The different composition of septa and the external shell allowed them to fossilize differently, so we can still see their shapes today. (The curved lines running perpendicular to the outline of the fossil.)

 

The long channel you can see running along the center of the fossil-two parallel thin dark lines-was a hole that housed a strand of tissue called the siphuncle. It was (and is in nautiluses today) a way for them to filter water in and out of closed chambers, controlling buoyancy.

 

They probably worked in a similar fashion to those of creatures living today. It’s a pretty interesting method of control. It isn’t a muscular thing like you’d imagine. Instead it works by osmosis. Basically the change was controlled by blood salinity. Water would move from areas of lower salinity to higher in an attempt to achieve an equilibrium. Gases dissolved in the blood would slowly fill the chambers as the water moved elsewhere.

 

Despite the likelihood of this passive method of control, some propose that this might also have aided in propulsion.

 

Since all of orthoceras relatives were/are predators, it is fair to guess that they were as well.

 

Their fossils are often found in assemblages-like sheets of them mostly parallel-the only species present. It looks like an Edward Gorey inspired repeating wallpaper pattern! You see beautiful displays of them in museums or at fossil shows. (I’ve also seen really cool things made out of them, including the best bathroom sink ever!) Interestingly these groupings are found mostly amongst the older of the fossils.

 

Scientists aren’t sure why this is. Some believe it is evidence of post mating mass deaths, others that they simply traveled in schools. It’s been suggested that they are aligned so nicely because they shifted after death due to currents over the ocean floor.

 Minimalist Monochrome Orthoceras Pendant

I’m fascinated by the elegant simplicity of orthoceras fossils. They’re often black and gray and the smooth bullet like shape is a lot of fun to work with. It suits a lot of different styles. In my most recent turn with them I used three different colors of wire to try to mimic the tones and striped effect of the chambers in a simple woven frame.

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An Ammonite Again!

A whole ammonite this time, chambers well hidden but polished to show off the wonderful iridescence these guys sometimes have.

I posted another ammonite, so decided I might as well share another of my fossil tanka. Because sometimes you just have to write on an improbable prompt to keep from going mad from boredom (or frustration) at work!

 

ammonite

 

frozen whirlpool, still

expanding, trying to flee

the growing chambers’

sutures–inescapable

rooting in the stony past

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On Paleoart

play with wire, precious

metals and watercolors

touch of the brush–salt

and paint diffuse in water

dreaming of vast ancient seas

 

I don’t have the widest range of hobbies. I like to play with photography and go for long walks/low impact hikes (I’m not a fan of heights; last time I was on a proper up mountain type of hike to look out over a waterfall my friends had to peel me off of a tree after a panic attack), but I don’t really live in an area where I can do that alone (or at night) safely.

 

So I mostly make things. Neither wire work nor sewing are particularly easy on the wrists. Add to that a job with a lot of time spend on the computer and shelving heavy objects and my wrists are a bit of a disaster.

 

But I get so *bored* when I can’t type or make things, and reading is never as much fun when it’s my only option for entertainment. So awhile a go a friend had suggested painting might be a lower impact kind of creative project.

 

Great idea in theory, didn’t work out in practice. I don’t do abstract so well, but honestly don’t have the patience for proper depth and the degree of detail I want (and detail=still rough on wrists) so I kind of fell into paleoart. I had a nice notebook with watercolor paper and decided that it would be a dig journal for a steampunk character I was creating. For practice I started making artist trading cards with different fossils, or imaginings of what they would have looked like alive. Some are the fossils you’ve seen on here in my jewelry: ammonites and orthoceras.

 

I also tried to play with crinoids (a class of echinoderms–distant cousins of starfish and sand dollars–their name means lily form) and some of the critters from the Burgess Shale. (Go to the website, that’s a hike I’d love to do, and the song cracks me up.) Those animals are actually pretty tough to get a handle on.

 

The Burgess shale is a fossil field dating from the mid Cambrian (much earlier than the ammonites or the brachiopods I was showing before, about 500 million years ago). It is known for having a wide range of fossils of soft bodied bottom dwellers.

 

They were an odd looking lot (to modern eyes at least). It was sort of like life was trying out all these different forms and directions and saw which ones survived and which thrived. But they’re really fun to doodle. Like a combination of dragons and the children of elder gods with a bit of really cranky sea urchin thrown in. One illustrator on deviantart did a fantastic homage to the six classic species of the Cambrian explosion.

 

The Natural History Museum (London) has a really nifty 3-D model of an anomalocaris that you can move around. And see why it’s such a hard critter to figure out! They also have a 3-D model of an ammonite fossil and the inside of a brachiopod on the menu next to the anomalocaris.

I had some small scraps of watercolor paper where I was pleased with the crystal bursts and didn’t want to throw them out, so that led me to making even tinier watercolors to set behind glass cabochons to wire wrap for pendants. (Probably reaching the pinnacle of nonmarketable jewelry, I’m afraid. But I do enjoy making them.)

 

So, vacation for joints was pretty much a fail, and I’m not very good at watercolor. But I fancy I get some good depth in my paintings of shells. And people keep calling my ammonites cute. I’m not sure how to take that…

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Fossil Record

Future by KubusRubus (also an example of a replacement fossil)

Fossil –noun 1. any remains, impression, or trace of a living thing of a former geologic age, as a skeleton, footprint, etc.

There are several different types of fossilization, the one I run across the most in jewelry is replacement fossils, where the original materials are completely replaced by minerals in such a way that the original biological details are maintained. (In nonorganic materials this is called psedumorphism- like how tiger’s eye is an asebestos pseudomorph.)

I decided I’d use the Darwin Day theme to feature some of my favorite fossil inspired pieces.

KubusRubus is an artist I was lucky enough to run across on deviantart. We sort of became craft supply penpals. He’s a much better artist than me, but I take an odd amount of pride in the fact that I’m the one who got him working with fossils in some of his pieces. And I always feel like I’m sending them off to a better home, since I have to take what I’m dealt while he knows how to cut and polish and pamper them 😉 Though I do sometimes worry they’ll come to a bad end if they don’t behave…

Another artist I’ve run across and started following on deviantart is DBPJewelry. She does gorgeous and seriously intricate wirework with some stunning stones, one of which is the gem ammolite.  Ammolite is ammonite that fossilized in such a way as to have a dramatic play of color on the surface. Plenty of small ammonites have an irridescense to them, but most are a gentle or pearly sheen. Depending on the thickness of the coating ammolite ranges from firey reds and parrot greens to unreal purples. She also has recently completed some really beautiful pieces using fossil coral and a mix of metals. One of her newest is this really classy little black-dress-craving pale oval coral piece. (Which besides being starkly gorgeous is also an example of a replacement fossil.)

Obviously, I like playing with fossils myself as well as oggling them. Orthoceras and ammonites are my main choices, simply because they’re relatively plentiful and yet interesting. Both are names given to multiple related species of long extinct cephalopods. Various species of ammonites meandered the seas between 300 and 65 million years ago. That’ s a lot of time to leave traces behind!  Orthoceras like the one in KubusRubus’s Future pendant are even older than ammonites, they date from around 450 million years ago.

For further fossil hunting inspiration, check out Tracy Chevalier’s novel Remarkable Creatures, which is loosely based on one of the first fossil hunters. And it has ammonites, yay ammonites! And check out the Guardian’s article on Barbara Hastings.

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