Tag Archives: fossils

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 Echoes

nature, she echoes

variation on a theme

of fractal design

changed over millennia

past fossils like growing leaves

 

Brachiopods (literally arm-foot) appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian and peaked during the Ordovician (490-445 mya).

What’s fascinating is that while most of them have gone extinct, some species of brachiopod are still around, so it’s a story of survival. Even though I’m working with fossils of creatures that died hundreds of millions of years ago, a number of their descendants and cousins are still on sea floors the world over. (Around 100 different genera still exist, over 5000 are known to have existed.)

Brachiopods are bottom feeding marine creatures with two shells. (You can see the lip of their joint nicely in the fossils I picked up.) They’re symmetrical when viewed from above, unlike bivalves.

Mine are members of the spiriferidia. I think they’re of the Mucrospirifer genus. Some of the rock hounds on deviantart are thinking along the same lines, but I don’t have a location of origin to narrow matters down.

The one I bought more recently was from southwest Ontario and identified as a Mucrospirifer thedfordensis from the mid Devonian. (That’s about 385 million years ago.) My previous stash were probably from the same general area. (I’ve been told New York State is another possible origin.) This genus reached its highest levels of number and diversity during this period, so it’s a probably a safe guess that all the ones I’ve worked with are all (loosely!) around the same age.

I’m not sure all of my original stash were of the same species to begin with; since some were chubbier like the thedfordensis and others were much slimmer, though they all share the same basic shape and nice curve. I don’t know how much variation existed between individuals of a species.

Mucrospirifer thedfordensis

(I’m not very good at identifying fossils beyond the general. Anyone know of a good, *simple* guide for fossils? I like playing with ammonites too but can never divide them into species either.)

They would have lived in soft mud on the sea floor and attached to the bottom with a fleshy stalk. They were found all over the world. Brachiopods took a hit at the end of the Devonian period, but a diverse number survived into the next hundred million years. A lot of brachiopod species went extinct during the Permian Mass Extinction ( about 251 mya), along with a lot of the other ‘classic’ species we’re familiar with–like the trilobites. The corals of the era were so badly destroyed it took over 10 million years for them to recover, and 150 million for biodiversity to bounce back to pre-extinction levels. (Some of the Mucrospirifers survived the Permian Mass Extinction and held on into the Jurassic period.)

Walking past the brachiopods on a dealer’s table en masse they reminded me of fallen ginkgo leaves. I decided that I had to play with that resemblance by wrapping them with ‘stems.’ Now I want more to experiment with, and to learn how to properly identify the little suckers. I’d really like to take the term butterfly shells literally and do a butterfly shaped wrap somehow.

(Yes, I wrote a tanka over a fossil, I wrote a few about different types actually…)

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Steam and Tea

Steam Tea Travels invited me to Paris by airship. It made me realize that I don’t actually have much of my steampunk inspired work on here. I showed off a bit of a friend’s foray, but don’t think I’ve done much on it myself besides beg for costume help. Which, btw, I’d still be interested in though the pressing need is gone for the moment. So it seemed like time to correct the oversight. I’ll admit I’m more into the visuals of steampunk than the stories, I prefer Verne over Wells and don’t care for a lot of the modern ‘classic’ steampunk books. I am addicted to the charming and snarky Parasol Protectorate Series. I think I’d follow Gail Carriger into any genre! I’d also argue that Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy can be viewed as having some great steampunk elements.

For my crafting it’s almost a subset of my fossil addiction. It just slides so nicely from cabinet of curiosity type item to somewhat steamy… I also just love pairing such ancient objects with somewhat old by human standards objects. The juxtaposition of permanence and transience.

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Rawr!

If you’re in the northeastern US you can now find some of my fossil wire work jewelry in the gift shop at the Connecticut Dinosaur State Park.

It’s a small place, but a great visit on a nice day. The centerpiece of it is a fossilized track made by carnivorous dinosaurs in the early Jurassic. (Think something like Dilophosaurus from the movie Jurassic Park.) It also has some displays for children explaining how fossilization occurs (and why a good area for fossilizing tracks is a poor one for fossilizing bones), and interactive exhibits on local geography with specimens children can handle.

They also have some very pretty short walking trails, with periodic signs explaining the geological history of the area and talking about the local species and their natural history. My favorite is that they have an arboretum with unusual species, and some interesting conifers. With labels! It really bugs me when botanical gardens don’t actually identify the species, so it’s a touch I appreciate when I find it.

Besides, the people there have a good/offbeat sense of humor. They had a sign “It’s a gneiss day, don’t take it for granite!” So following that wisdom my friend and I went for a short hike to take advantage of a nice sunny day.

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O Frabjous Day!

Jabberwocky by Sir John Tenniel

Jabberwocky

Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son

The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;

Long time the manxome foe he sought—

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,

The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,

And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!

He left it dead, and with its head

He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”

He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

I finally used the stone that I got from a swap with Dusty (of dbpjewelry). The swap took several attempts and apparently a bit of
alternate universe travelling judging by the post office issues…

Dusty's first geode.

She got a few geode slices to play with and I got a piece of ammolite. (It’s part of the shell of a fossilized ammonite, but fossilized with a different mineral composition that makes it look like opal.) I meant to wait until I could pick up more gold fill wire before wrapping it, but I couldn’t. So it has a maybe-temporary wrap of jeweler’s brass and coated copper wire.

My Jabberwock pendant!

I’d been listening to an mp3 of Carroll’s Jabberwocky when I got the stone and I was so excited I kept thinking of the “O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!” line, so to me this is the Jabberwocky hide pendant.

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A Mammoth (if slightly belated) Presidents’ Day

Thomas Jefferson is credited with being one of the first people to use mammoth as an adjective. While he might not have coined the usage, he was certainly integral to its popularity.

The Mammoth…

Mastodon fossils had been found in the United States, well, before it was the United States. In 1705 some large teeth had been found, which Puritan clergymen attributed to a race of giants destroyed in Noah’s flood. 

(Some historians think the ancients made similar assumptions about fossils they may have discovered. Apparently there are little to no references among the ancients about finding fossils, but much about finding the skeletons of heroes and monsters. There is a theory that at least some of the classical myths dealing with giants and monsters were originally inspired by fossil finds. One proposed derivation is that the large hole where the trunk would have attached in mammoth skulls led to the myth of the Cyclops with its one huge eye dead in the center of its forehead.)

In 1799 workers found large bones while digging on a farm in the Hudson River Valley. A number of local people started pulling bones out of the ground and housing them in the granary. Interest in them waned for a year or so, but eventually news spread to the American Philosophical Society and through them to not just yet president Thomas Jefferson.

Charles Willson Peale's Exhumation of the MastodonJefferson sent his friend Charles Willson Peale, the artist and creator of the first American art and natural science museum, to investigate. He was officially there to draw the fossils, but soon decided to acquire them and the rights to look for the rest. He eventually managed to get nearly a full skeleton, and in 1801 brought it back to his museum and gallery in Philadelphia. He spent months reconstructing it with the aid of naturalist Caspar Wistar. 

Years later Jefferson would have William Clark to continue the hunt for mammoth bones in the Hudson River Valley and elsewhere, partially in the hope of finding the parts missing from Peale’s skeleton.

…and the Cheese! 

The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese was a gift from the town of Cheshire, CT to Presisdent Jefferson. In a letter Jefferson described it as being 4’ 4 ½” in diameter and 15’ thick and weighing 1230 pounds.

The gift was both instigated and delivered by pastor Elder John Leland as a thank you from the local Baptist community to Jefferson for his stance on religious liberty and sustaining the division between church and state. The cheese was too big to be transported on a wheeled vehicle, so Leland brought it from Cheshire to Washington DC by sleigh.

Jefferson’s election was a tempestuous one, and he was often skewered by the federalist papers. A writer at the Hampshire Gazette derisively took the name of Jefferson’s famous creature and used it as an adjective to emphasize how ridiculous he found the giant cheese and its winding path to DC. Jefferson himself later used the term in a letter he wrote to his son-in-law describing the famous cheese. (note: Jefferson was morally opposed to elected officials accepting gifts, so he in turn made a gift of $200 to the town of Cheshire.)

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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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