Amidst all the mindless graffiti either extolling or berating the virtues of Sharon, and the––frankly optimistic––opinion that Derby County will be promoted to the Premier League, one small scribbled declaration on the toilet wall stood out from the otherwise depressing crowd: “Ammonites. We will never forget.”
The message was accompanied by a small picture. Given that no one is entirely sure what an ammonite looked like outside its shell, I am prepared to grant that the artist has employed an educated best-guess licence. In a somewhat sullied world, I find the little image and heartfelt promise strangely moving.
An ammonite was one of the first fossils I ever encountered. In the fossil-world they are two-a-penny, which is all the rate of exchange that my boyhood self would have been able to pay to acquire one. I recall myriad seaside ‘old curiosity shops’ in Dorset where my family used to holiday, all of them displaying buckets of ammonite fossils outside on the pavement; temptation for any curious youth to pick and mix.
The name ammonite alludes to the Egyptian god Ammon, who is typically depicted wearing ram’s horns; an image suggested by the fossilised remains of the mollusc’s curled shell.
I like to think of ammonites as the ultimate aspirants. While we may be Keeping Up with the Kardashians, the little sea-living cephalopods were always attempting to better themselves. Their helix-shaped shell is visual proof of their restless ambition.
As the living creature grew, it would vacate the current chamber––camera––of its shell for a larger one, which it was continuously building ahead of it. The ammonite’s propensity for construction puts Kevin McCloud in the shade. The construction of successively larger camerae form the distinctive spiral shell, which fossil hunters have grown to recognise. Whilst most ammonites were happy to achieve relatively small domestic proportions, some aspired to Candy Brothers dimensions, building homes for themselves over six-feet across.
The ammonites met their end, along with most of the dinosaurs, during the K-T extinction event, at the end of the Cretaceous Period.
But, while young fossil hunters continue to be entranced by their beautiful geometry, I echo my fellow toilet-user’s statement: Ammonites. We will never forget.
© Bradley Dunbar
Bradley Dunbar recalls his first ammonite.