Imagine, you are a young woman. You, like so many of your friends, love to get new pieces of jewellery, but you always want something a bit different, something which will stand out from the crowd. Having 'normal' jewellery is simply no fun! Recently, you saw a beautiful piece in a shop, a piece made with a fossil. You hadn't seen a fossil like it before - it was shiny and colourful and sparkling. You simply had to have it. You'd never even thought you could make fossils into jewellery before now.
When I took this fossil jewellery to show the children, they were quite intrigued by it. The boys were impressed that girls would wear something 'so cool', while the girls were impressed that 'dirty old fossils could look so pretty'. They all agreed it was 'very elegant'. The thing which surprised them most though was that, although this is a modern piece, the use of fossils as fashion accessories dates back thousands of years. They knew that ancient people wore jewellery, but to wear something which people would still wear today was very surprising.
Although using fossils, particularly ammonites, in jewellery is very popular in modern times, fossils being used as decorative pieces is by now means a new phenomenon. In ancient times, attractive stones, pieces of bone or antler, wood and all sorts of items were incorporated into jewellery and everyday items. Fossils, with their attractive colours, interesting shapes and patterns were no different and we know that they were used in ancient jewellery. Finds like a necklace, thought to be 30,000 years old and made of fossilised shell and stone beads, discovered in the Czech Republic, show that fossils were certainly known to and valued by ancient man.
It is likely that in ancient society fossils had some symbolic or ceremonial associations, but we cannot know for sure what these are. One fossil takes its name from an association with an Egyptian god. Ammonites, the fossils used in the jewellery in these photos, were actually originally called Ammon's Stones because they looked a bit like the rams horns of the Egyptian God Ammon. Whether they served a symbolic purpose, it is unlikely that ancient people really understood what fossils were. For thousands of years, fossils were thought to have fallen from the sky or to be natures jokes. After all, it was unimaginable that living organisms could turn to stone. It wasn't until the 1600s that people began to understand what fossils really were. In 1666 a shark was caught in Italy and its body was sent to the anatomist Niels Stensen (known as Steno) for examination. He noticed that the sharks teeth bore a strong resemblance to rocks known as 'tongue stones'. He demonstrated just how similar the stone was to sharks teeth, and argued that the stones were the teeth of sharks which lived thousands of years ago. He also argued that it was a gradual process by which living things turned to stone. All of this was of course a radical idea, but he was not the only one to believe that fossils came from once living things. Among others to believe this idea was the famous Leonardo da Vinci. If you would like to learn more about the history of fossils, click here.