Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hild and the Ammonites
(The connections between medieval culture and paleontology: they're everywhere!)

I've just been thoroughly enjoying reading Richard Fortey's wonderful Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum, where I learned that the Jurassic Lias Formation is particularly well-exposed in the cliffs near Whitby. In that formation are many ammonites of the genus Dactylioceras, which are particularly beautiful. According to Fortey, local legend says that these ammonites (which were once among the most common molluscs on earth) are snakes that were turned into stone by Abbess Hild. Some of the fossils are even embellished with carved snake heads.

So you see, studying evolutionary biology has not just deep, but also superficial connections to medieval literature and culture!

1 comment:

Lisa Spangenberg said...


There's another connection.

Nicola Griffith who wrote a brilliant award-winning SF novel called Ammonite in 1992 is now writing a novel about Hild of Whitby. Griffith's research blog is here.