During the Saxon era in Whitby, Yorkshire, legend told of St Hilda’s magical ability to transform snakes into special stones. Worldwide, these rocks were reputed to have varying mythic qualities: in North America, Blackfoot tribes believed ‘buffalo stones’ had great ritualistic and medicinal importance, whilst in India, the fossils are still referred to as ‘Shaligrams’ (or ‘Saligrams’) and worshipped as representations of the Hindu God Vishnu. To many Hindus these stones are sacred, for they have the power to expel bad karma and cleanse people of sin before their death, enabling them to enter the afterlife. But it was Greek myth that gifted the fossils with their famous name; the coiled shell of this ancient marine mollusc resembled the horns of rams, therefore its remains were classified as ‘ammonites’, after the Greek ram god Ammon.
Ammonites lived in the seas near what are now the called the Mahajanga and Tulear regions of Madagascar, during the Lower Jurassic (163 million years ago) and Cretaceous (120 million years ago) periods. These cephalopods shared the same extinction date as the dinosaurs (the Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction event), and were probably a food source for mosasaurs. Ancestors of octopi and squid, ammonites used their tentacles to ensnare unsuspecting prey, much like their modern counterparts (there is also evidence to suggest some ammonites may have squirted ink to defend themselves against predators). The ammonite inhabited the largest chamber of the shell, whilst smaller segments were enclosed by septa and packed with air to help the creature float atop the open ocean. They also could control the water content of these chambers via a siphuncle tube and flood them with fluid in the event of a predator attack; this enabled them to to sink to the bottom of the sea floor and hide.
After the ammonites died, their remains were fossilised in a sequence of fascinating geological processes that culminated in the beautifully preserved specimens discovered in Madagascar, ammonites which we sell at Madagascan Direct. Ammonite bodies sunk into the seabed sediment, and over time the many sediment layers hardened into rock, preserving the fossils within. Throughout this process, bacteria decomposed the ammonite bodies. This decomposition affected redox conditions in the marine environment, leading to dissolved minerals such as carbonates and phosphates becoming less soluble in water. The minerals were precipitated out of the water, and enveloped the ammonite in a solid concretion, which ensured the fossil was preserved for thousands of millennia. Minerals seeped into the ammonite’s many chambers and solidified, creating its ornate interior. The rock covering the ammonite fossils was then either naturally eroded, or excavated by humans, to expose them.
Ammonite fossils revolutionised the study of geology. As renowned index fossils, ammonites can be used to date the geological age of the rock layer in which they are found; consequently, they are essential for the work of stratigraphers. Ammonites form a significant part of the fossil record, one of the biggest pieces of evidence for evolution. Therefore ammonites have contributed vast amounts of knowledge to biology and geology, as well as providing a unique planispiral aesthetic to display pieces.
At Madagascan Direct, we sell various species of the finest Madagascan ammonites, including, but not limited to; Perisphinctes, Aspidoceras, Euaspidoceras, Phylloceras, Lytoceras, Douvilleiceras and Cleoniceras. The genera of these ammonites are suffixed by ‘cera’, because ‘cera’ is the Greek word for ‘horn’, harkening back to the horns of ram god Ammon once again. In Madagascar, unprocessed ammonites are cut and polished by trained artisans. Our ammonites, when carefully carved in half, demonstrate brilliant clarity of features; the colours of their mineral-rich chambers are sharp, and suture patterns intricate. However, if you’d prefer to purchase whole ammonites, we have a variety available for you, whether you’d like them polished or natural. Madagascan Direct’s catalogue includes large display pieces, which are indispensable to interior design, and smaller jewellery pieces. Pendants and rings are hand-crafted and polished, and are formed from a range of ammonite species which often possess the trademark iridescent quality of prized Madagascan ammonites. When lifted to the light, a striking spectrum of colours shines from these ammonites’ shells, giving the fossil gem-like features; a great example of this is the rainbow-like lustre of opalescent Cleoniceras ammonites. These accessories often come with a display box, so they can also be used as décor.
Metaphysically, Feng Shui masters highly recommend the use of ammonites in the study of their art, and as a way of gaining knowledge and wealth. Some Feng Shui practitioners believe ammonites store all the knowledge in the universe, and strengthen people’s Qi (life force). Ammonites have great mythical, historical, biological, geological and metaphysical value. They even, surprisingly contributed to the history of sport: reportedly, the Ancient Greeks used ammonites as discuses in their early Olympics. Ammonites are perhaps the most iconic fossils to grace the world, and their many beautiful properties ensure they belong in every home.