viernes, 10 de julio de 2009

Fossil remains and popular culture

Cultural Palaeontology and Ethnopalaeontology. 
Two new approaches to the fossil record

Environmental and Soil Sciences Department
Lleida university (Spain)


Cultural Paleontology is the name that we created and use to designate a new field of scientific and humanistic study, which allowed the specific purpose of their research, knowledge of different non-scientific relations that have existed at the time and also, the relationship existing today between the various kinds of fossils and various human societies.

The dinosaurs, are the type of fossil remains that has had more influence on the modern popular culture, through cinematography films 
 Picture: The Lost World

Ethnopaleontology is a new word-sense idea that we used to introduce a new concept to the field of ethnology, with which we intend to call a new sub-discipline of study, within the Cultural Paleontology. The claims which the collection, study and interpretation of concepts, roles and popular customs and / or traditional that characterized the relations of persons of a cultural community, in particular, with the existing fossil remains in their communities natural (with fossils indigenous) and / or fossils exist in their cultural environment (with allochthonous fossils or foreign) in the social-cultural particular of a concrete historical period. It is the application of the Cultural Paleontology at the small-scale.

Keywords: Cultural Paleontology, Ethnopaleontology, folklore of fossils, Paleontology, Ethnology.

Fossils have attracted the attention of our inquisitive minds since well back into prehistoric times. From ancient tales about their magical or medicinal powers to their many religious and decorative uses it is hardly surprising that a rich and fascinating folklore has developed around these bewildering objects.
Picture: Fossil Folklore, Natural History Museum of London

"Cultural Palaeontology", what that?

Cultural paleontology is the name that we created and used to refer to a new field of humanistic and scientific study, which has enabled the specific purpose of their research, knowledge of different non-scientific relationships that have existed in time and also relations existing today between the various kinds of fossils and various human societies.

Their main objectives are: to study, learn and disseminate all kinds of influences that have fossil human culture throughout the history of humanity (eg. magical, superstitious, religious, artistic, economic, fun, etc.). But, excluding, specifically, the major influences on the knowledge on fossils remains of scientific type (eg. information on biological evolution, information about relationships and paleoecological conditions, information on the conditions palaeogeographic distribution of hominids, the fauna and flora, the paléoclimes, the oceans, etc.).
Toadstone ring and Button-shaped fossil teeth of the fossil fish Lepidotes (Toadstones). It was highly valued and reputed to protect the wearer against kidney diseases, to cure the bite of venomous creatures and to detect poison. It was also thought to protect pregnant women from fairies and demons and to prevent their child being exchanged for a changeling.
Picture: Victoria & Albert Museum 


This new field of knowledge, called Cultural Paleontology, studies the certain aspects socials and scientifics of fossil record, , covers a geographical and social space, very broad and expanded, it should be applied to corporations and territories extension regional, national, continental or global, see, some issues as examples: 
- What kinds or species of fossils are part of the unscientific European culture?

What European populations have heraldic use of some local fossils?

Iguanodon dinossaur, on the town's coat of arms outside Maidstone Town Hall 
Picture: Maidstone Borough Council

- What regions in Europe have medicinal use of fossil belemnites? 

- What are the European countries including in their unscientific culture genera and species of fossil sea urchins?

The "snake eggs", a fossil sea urchin, by magical celtic tradition If it could be stolen from the snakes it was an object of great magical power. It possession ensured success in battle and disputes.
Picture: The Echinoblog
- What are the English regions including in their unscientific culture genera or species of fossil shells of gastropods and/or of bivalves?
- Etc, etc......

This new area of ​​study on fossil record, called Cultural Paleontology, was created as a result of the convergence and integration of very different academic knowledges, but basically, the synthesis of three tipes of knowledges about the fossil remains:

Ethnological knowledge: social function and interpretation of etiological legends, beliefs irrational or rational, traditional customs and usages or popular applications of the various genera and species of fossils.

Linguistic and literary
knowledge: study and interpretation of traditional folk legends concerning to fossil remains, collection of common names of various types of fossils and their regional variants and their geographical distribution, etc.. Regional toponymy studies with paleontological motivation.

Illustration of a children's story, which includes the legend that explains the origin of the ammonites of the cliffs of the coast of Whitby, as petrified snakes and decapitated by Saint Hilda
Picture: Myths and Legends Junior Geo Co.  

- Scientific knowledge: paleontological identification of fossil genera or species, assigning scientific names in taxonomy and systematics, identification of the type of fossilization allocation timing, etc., for each fossil genus or species. 

These skeleton, are bones of a mythical giant or bones of a fossil elephant? What is their age? What is it classified zoologically?
Picture: The Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington

From the point of view of Cultural Paleontology, their main "science assistants" are, Ethnology, Philology and Paleontology. But paleontologists, ethnologists and linguists should not display the cultural Paleontology ethnoscience as a competitor threatens to occupy the field of its strong and established disciplines, but on the contrary, they should consider as a young and potentially valuable partner capable of providing, study conventional, innovative perspectives and also able to provide data that can be very useful to the progress of each and every one of those sciences. 

Types of social influences and cultural contributions exerted by the fossil record.

If we analyze the various influences of different types of fossils on human culture throughout historical time and geographical areas, we see that they can agrouper into two categories:  physical influences and spiritual influences.

We see that certain types of fossils in certain human groups and in historical time, they have generated different types of material culture and they have contributed to the development a multitude of objects, with very diverses social uses: economical, playful, ornamental, magical, medicinal, religious, etc.
Other classes of fossils, or the same, but in other societies or at another time, they helped to inspire different aspects of nonmaterial culture, they have contributed to the development of very different ideas: legendary, rationalist, mythical, naturalist or magical interpretation of the paleontological realities, such as formation or accumulation of fossil remains.

Ammonites are regarded as a symbol of good luck and good fortune. They are a symbol of wealth and are believed to attract abundance and prosperity.
Bowl and spoon, likes a fossil ammonite, blead freepewter handmade in the UK

Picture: Glover & Smith 


Fossil record and the material culture.

The study of different types of fossils that have contributed to the material culture of different societies, we found that the fossils were used as single objects or as parts of compound objects and provided some materials or substances in a variety of human activities

Certain kinds of fossils have been used as:

- Objects with specific and very different social functions: with ritual, magical, medicinal, decorative, communicative, economic, recreative, etc., functions

"Dig out a dinosaur skeleton with real excavation tools! Grow and shrink a giant dino! Explor like a real paleontologist!"
Picture: Oregon Museum. Science store

- Materials and substances for a very different  ordinary uses: for decorative, medical, recreational, commercial, instrumental, etc., applications
A decorative ammonite pavement, slab to celebrate Lyme Regis' standing as the capital of the Jurassic Coast.
Picture: Coade stone Ammonites

Materials and substances for a extraordinary use: magical or religious uses, as sacred relics, protective amulets or powerful talismans, etc..

A snakestone, a protective amulet against the bites of snakes, really, it was a manipulated ammonite fossil, genus Hildoceras, originating from the Whitby coast.
Picture: Fossil Folklore, Natural History Museum of London

Fossil record and nonmaterial culture.

  The study of different types of fossil remains that have exercised a influence on nonmaterial culture, we can see, as they helped inspire different ideas and beliefs that have shaped the human mind, some of collective social, in different societies, because we see that particular kinds of fossils, they have:

- Inspired interpretations and particular conceptions of the physical world: the origin unnatural fossils, the existence of mythical beings and the possibility of supernatural events as indicators of natural processes or temporal sequence of geological or historical events , etc.

Until the eighteenth century, was discussed whether the product of marine fossils were mythical universal flood or other natural phenomena more 
Picture: The Genesis Flood


- Raised or strengthened religious or mythical beliefs: concerning to the intervention of supernatural beings, allegedly extraordinary events, relateds with the fossilization.

- Served to develope differents social values: economical, aesthetical, recreational, spiritual, philosophical, etc.. types

Designed by Edmund New, in 1926, represents the legend of St. Hilda, it was used on a bookplate, note paper and blazer badge in  St. Hilda's College, Oxford.
Picture: St Hilda's College Symbols 


- Led to the creation or development of certain technical procedures: related with their practical application or use in some  activities of daily living, etc..

A paleontologist performing an excavation of dinosaur fossils, in Niger, West Africa.
Picture: NHM

- Served as symbolic models to create and develop systems of communication and expression style aesthetic, artistic, linguistic, mathematical, scientific, etc..

Old municipal coat of arms of Dudley (1886), with an fossil trilobite, the Calymene blumenbachi, of Silurian (Paleozoic), popularly called the Dudley Bug", the Dudley Insect or the Dudley Locust


All these types of record fossil influences, that we presented were of remarkable importance, but variable, depending on the territorial and historical moments, considered for the development of certain philosophical ideas, aesthetic, religious, economic, social, technological, scientists, etc.., the various historical societies have taken into account throughout the centuries and continents.

Main aspects of the study of relationships between humans and fossils, that were considered by the Cultural Paleontology.

Various nonscientific relationships that have been established historically between some fossils existing territory and communities in society, in times past or present, can be raised and resolved by the study of some particular boxes, by paleontologists cultural, in the light of various aspects of the ethnographic reality and paléontholologique, but it is desirable or necessary to consider whether the: 

- Chronological or historical aspects: in order to establish the temporal distribution of the meaning and use, documented, some fossils along all the time or only human in certain periods of history as cultural property.
Book illustrations in De Omni Rervm Fossilivm Genere by Conrad Gesner, showing a stones (fossils) that in his time, in 1565, was believed magical stones
Picture: E.T. Babinski
- Geographical or spatial aspects: to locate and distribute the meaning and use of certain fossils remains in all different parts of the inhabited world, or only in certain continents, regions or states. 

Picture: The United Kingdom

- Ethnic aspects: to collect and interpret cultural meanings and uses of some fossils in different cultural regions of the world, or only in certain ethnic communities regional or national.

PictureScottish Couple around 1700

- Genetic and evolutionary aspectsto discover, in the cultural meanings and traditional uses of certain fossilswhat was the original source social and explain the process of transformation of cultural meaning and use of fossil with the passage of time. 
Picture The time pasage


The Ethnopaleontology or paleontological Ethnology, what that?

Ethnopaleontology is a new word-sense, ided and used by I to introduce a new concept in the fields of the Ethnology and in the Paleontology, with which we intend to call a new sub-discipline of study, within the Cultural paleontology.

This new sub-discipline, called Ethnopaleontology, claims the collection, study and interpretation of concepts, roles and folk customs and/or traditional that have characterized relations between people of a cultural community, particularly with the existing fossil, in their natural environment (with indigenous fossil) and / or with the existing fossil in their cultural environment (with fossils immigrants or foreign) in the social and cultural context, individuals, a concrete historical period: p.ex. study the relationships with fossil record of society of Southwestern UK , on the XVIII-XIX centuries.

The Ethnopaleontology is the application of Cultural Paleontology, to the small scale, for this reason his research focuses on the specific features, local or sub-regional paleontological folklore, here are some examples

- What kinds or species of fossils are part of the culture unscientific Dorset?

Dorset people often call Belemnites; the bullet shaped fossils found along the beach, 'Colepexies fingers'; and fossil sea urchins, 'Colepexies-heads', for they find one of them were considered lucky.  
Picture: Fossils forum Seatown. Dorset

- What are the populations included in English unscientific
culture some genera and species of fossil sea urchins?

Certain unusual objects found in the earth were popularly called ‘thunderbolts’ or ‘thunderstones’, including fossil sea-urchins. In Sussex in the early 20th century fossil sea-urchins were set on the outside windowsills of kitchens and dairies to stop milk going sour, because thunder was believed to ‘turn’ milk;
Picture: thunderstone

  - What are the populations of northeastern of UK its are included in non-scientific
culture some genera or species of fossil shells of gastropods and/or bivalves?

  - What English regions have a medicinal use of fossil belemnites?

  - What did English towns are used some fossils locals in their heraldry?

The coastline around Whitby is part of the “Jurassic Coast” and so abundant the fossils of ammonites. The town’s coat of arms even depicts three “snakestones”, or ammonite fossils, so well know is the area for fossils.
Picture: Whitby Town Crest

- Etc., etc....


The Ethnopaleontology discipline, is considered, in the spirit of the author of this proposal, as the younger sister of Ethnobotany and ethnozoology, not by their low aspirations, but on the whole, due to their immaturity, logically derived from his youth.
It is hoped that with the passage of time and, over all, with the popularization of their objectives, procedures and results that their study will win the studious studious needed to expand and consolidate this "ethnoscience" and today, despite the great toiling facts, lack notoriously.

Possibly is that research, dissemination of experiences, opinions and debate viewpoints décrêpant, researchers and academic researchers and enthusiasts, this ethnoscience, will correct the défets shows that this article and other connected, all these errors are derived from the lack of maturity affects us today and determines the results of our work.
   We believe and hope that the development of Ethnopaleontology, will complete and understand the ethnographic vision of the natural world, which started the other "ethnosciences" sisters as they are the Ethnobotany, the Ethnozoology, the Ethnoastronomy and the Ethnométéorologie, decades ago.

Bottom of the label, bottle of red wine "Tyrannosaurus Red", which appears in the graphical and textual information, most relevant, ethnopaleontológicamente: Silhouette tyrannosaurus wine name and region of origin.Picture a Screenshot at:

The objectives and methods of study and the approaches to the Popular Culture of ethnosciences before mentioned and highly developed today have inspired the author of this proposal, objectives, methods and approaches equivalents used in the design this new field of academic study ethnonaturaliste.
So it fa many years, the author will discover their investigations and research, there are other aspects of folklore ethnographic nature, related to the non-living reality that persisted in popular culture and traditional the academic world seemed to be ignored for the moment, and he wanted to introduce their systematic study.

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