Ammonites are fossils of animals that lived between 65 million to 400 million years ago. They died out at the same time as the dinosaurs (65 million years ago). These animals were Molluscs (Phylum Mollusca) in the same group as the octopus and the squid (class Cephalopoda), who are believed to be their nearest living relatives. Although nothing is definitively known about the behavior of these animals, they are believed to have lived in the open waters of seas, rather than living on the ocean bottoms, and are believed to have eaten a variety of small creatures. In turn, they were probably eaten by some of the marine reptiles, and some of the fossil ammonites have been found with tooth marks left by such predatory reptiles.
What we see today is the fossil shells of the ammonite animals. While alive, they secreted a shell that was made up of a number of chambers. These chambers were filled with gas, which gave the animal buoyancy and allowed it to swim in the open oceans. The animal itself is believed to have lived in the outermost chamber, and as it grew, it added larger outermost chambers to accommodate its larger size. The shells were composed of calcium carbonate, and are now preserved as fossils in chalky clay, limestone, or limey shale. Some of the ammonites have been fossilized in pyrite and have a golden color, while others have iridescent layers that are made up of glass-like layers of aragonite, a calcium carbonate mineral that is also found in onyx marble, pearls, and mother-of-pearl. These iridescent layers have been recognized as a gemstone called ammolite in 1981 by the International Commission of Colored Gemstones.
Ammonites have a Mohr’s hardness of 4 and a density of 2.75-2.8. Because they are relatively soft, care has to be taken to avoid scratching them.
Ammonites have a spiral shape, and that gave rise to their name: The name ammonite comes from the Egyptian god Ammon, who was often depicted as wearing ram’s horns. The Romans referred to ammonites as ammonis cornua, or horns of Ammon.
These fossils are surrounded by a number of legends.
In Britain, ammonites are known as snake stones, because legend has it that Saint Hilda (614-680 AD) wanted to build a convent at Whitby, but the land was infested with numerous snakes. So she prayed, and the snakes were turned into stones after she cut off their heads with a whip. The people around Whitby used to carve snake heads into the ammonites and sell them as petrified snakes. A triplet of ammonites became an official symbol for Whitby in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, and is still used today. Near Bristol, a similar feat was ascribed to Saint Keyna, who also apparently turned snakes into coils of petrified stone.
In India, ammonites are thought by some to symbolize the god Vishnu and can be found in some temples. Because of their spiral structure, ammonites are called the “Wheel of God” by some Himalayan tribes.
Ammonites have been thought to have a number of healing or beneficial properties.
The ancient Greeks thought that putting an ammonite under a pillow brought good dreams and cured insomnia. A Greek coin dated 480 BC contains the words, “The horn of Ammon which makes beautiful dreams.” In Greece, the fossils were known as Ophites, and in addition to their effect on dreams, were thought to provide protection from snakebite and cure impotence and infertility.
The Romans thought that pyretized ammonites would bring prophetic dreams, as did people in Ethiopia.In Germany, ammonites were proposed as a remedy for helping a cow start to produce milk again, by putting an ammonite into a milk pail and presenting the pail to the cow. And in Scotland, the ammonites were believed to help alleviate the cramps that cows might develop, by putting an ammonite into a pail of water, letting the ammonite sit in the pail for a few hours, and then washing the cow with the water from the pail. For that reason, ammonites in Scotland are still sometimes called crampstones.
Among the North American Indians, the Navajo and Plains Indians sometimes carried ammonites around as amulets. And the Blackfeet Indians considered the ammonites to be good luck, referring to the stones as buffalo stones because they thought that the spiral structure looked like a sleeping buffalo. The Blackfeet also called the stones journey stones, because finding an ammonite before beginning a journey was considered to be a sign of success on that journey.
In a metaphysical sense, ammonites are believed to be able to transform negative energy into smoothly-flowing positive energy.
Ammonites have been prized as jewelry. In England, Anglo-Saxon graves have occasionally been found to contain ammonites with holes drilled through them, suggesting that they were used as pendants. And in Elizabethan England, ammonites set in a jet matrix were highly valued.
At Heart of Stone Studio, we have ammonite cabochons that can be made into pendants or other jewelry, or can be placed under to your pillow to see if the Greeks and Romans were right about ammonites producing pleasant or prophetic dreams.
http://www.ammonite.com/faq.htm; Melody: Love Is In The Earth; Schumann: Gemstones Of The World