Fossils index

Ammonites

Ammonites were animals that lived in the sea. They are now extinct. Their name is derived from The Egyptian God Ammon. Ammon's sacred animal was a ram, and an ammonite looks like a ram's horn. Pliny the Elder called ammonites the Horns of Ammon.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Cephalopoda
Subclass: Ammonoidea
Ammonites were cephalopods. Living cephalopods include octopuses, cuttlefish, squid and nautiloids. Extinct cephalopods include belemnites.

Whitby shield Many ammonites can be found at Whitby. They were supposed to be snakes which were turned to stone by St. Hilda (614-680). Often snake heads were carved on the ammonites before selling them to tourists. Three ammonites are on the shield of the town of Whitby, complete with snake heads!
Ammonites were called snakestones. They were used as protection against snakebites

Ammonite

In America, the Blackfoot called ammonites insikim or buffalo stones because they look like sleeping bison. They were used in spiritual ceremonies. A man could find a buffalo stone on the prairie if it called out to him.

In India, ammonites found in the valley of the Gandaki River in Nepal and northern India are called Saligrams. They are considered the direct symbol of Lord Vishnu, as one of Vishnu's avatars (incarnations) was stone (Sri Saligram). Saligrams have markings called 'chakras', resembling the discus held in one of the six hands of the god Vishnu. Vishnu's chakra is a Hindu symbol of absolute completeness, with the eight spokes indicating the eightfold path of deliverance. The radial chakra markings in saligrams are actually the ribs of the ammonites. The stones are kept in temples, monasteries and households as natural symbols of Vishnu and water in which they have been bathed is drunk daily. In addition, saligrams are used in marriages, funerals and house-warmings. If a dying person sips water in which a saligram has been steeped, it is believed that they will be freed from all sins and will reach the heavenly abode of Vishnu. You are not allowed to buy a saligram as they are priceless, although they can be supplied if a donation is made. Saligrams are mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating back to the second century BC. For more information about saligrams, click here.

In the Western Isles, Scotland, ammonites are known as crampstones and were once used to cure the cramp in cows, using by soaking the fossils in water and using that to wash the cow. In Germany, they called ammonites dragon stones, and put them in a milk pail to bring a cow back to milk.



Timescale: Ammonites disappeared during the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event, when the dinosaurs and belemnites became extinct.



There are many different types of ammonite, some rounded, some flattened. The sections are different as well. Some are ridged, some smooth. Some fit together with a straight line, some with a wiggley line.
A Goniatite. It dates from the Devonian period. Size: 14mm
Ammonite
Size: 10mm
Ammonite
Size: 25mm
Ammonite
Size: 12mm
Ammonite
Size: 12mm
Ammonite
Size: 25mm
Ammonite


Sometimes ammonites are cut in half and polished, so you can see the internal structure. This shows you that the sections on the outside of the shell represent chambers inside. In some of these photos, you can see that the chamber has been filled with crystals as the ammonite was fossilised. Originally, most of these chambers would be empty. The creature filled the largest chamber. Every time it grew too big, it made a new, bigger chamber and moved into it. It walled off the empty chambers and they acted as a buoyancy aid for the ammonite.

Size: 45mm
Ammonite
Size: 30mm
Ammonite
Size: 30mm
Ammonite
Size of stone: 50mm
Ammonite
Size: 45mm
Ammonite



This is a pyritised ammonite from Russia. You can see the outside, and the cut section, which has been polished. Size: 27mm

Ammonite Ammonite



This ammonite has been broken rather than cut, but it still helps you see the internal structure. It is Anahoplites, from Folkestone, Kent. It is from the Cretaceous period, 120 million years old. Size: 36mm

Ammonite



Usually, you think of a fossil as something living that has been turned to stone. However, you can get a fossil impression. The animal presses into the silt to leave a mark, and it is this mark that is preserved. Below you can see both the fossil (top)and the impression that it has left (below). They were originally inside a pebble, and were split apart. They still fit back together perfectly. It is a Dactylioceras ammonite from the Jurassic period, about 170 million years old. Size: 60mm

Ammonite Ammonite



This lump of rock has several ammonite fragments in it, and one complete ammonite. Size of rock: 40mm

Ammonite



These are rather poor specimens that I collected from Whitby, Yorkshire. They came from the Blue Lias layer. The top photo does show a golden tint, as described by Pliny the Elder. Sizes: 25mm-60mm

Ammonite Ammonite Ammonite Ammonite Ammonite Ammonite

Size: 22mmSize: 15mm
Ammonite Ammonite


Another famous place for ammonites in England is Lyme Regis, Dorset. You can collect small ammonites along the beach towards Charmouth. However, there are rocks the other way which show you just how big ammonites can get (see below).

Ammonite



We tend to think that ammonites all have spiral shells, but this ammonite has a straight shell. It is called a baculite or walking stick rock. The second photograph shows the internal structure. Size: 27mm

Baculite Baculite