The woman in the museum gift shop wants to be honest. “It’s the real thing, but not actually from the Jurassic Coast. Maybe North Africa. There are a lot of them about…”. Hesitate. Do I really need an ammonite from anywhere?
A few days in Dorset included a castle, a cobb, a cream tea, an abbey (accidental witnesses to a wedding) and an excited giant carved into a hillside. But not a walk on an empty beach, where – behind a boulder or by a pool – my foot would turn over the remains of some ancient day, like the bone of another giant. A creature as yet unknown. A Missing Link, even…
We did go to Bridport and find one of those shops you think are extinct – a hatters and outfitters called Snook, full of other fantasies. From the long street market there, my companion bought a model soldier, a ‘Black Brunswicker’ to join his existing armies. But I fancied a fossil.
The one in the shop is not a concentric marvel of a mollusc – polished and sectioned to show off the pattern – a perfect pendant or ornament. It is a small and unshiny lump of a thing. (They used to call the coils ‘snakestones’, thinking they were snakes turned to stone and handy for keeping bites at bay.) Something lived in it once, secreting new and larger chambers as it grew. These shellfish were around with the dinosaurs and dominated the seas. Such power, unmindful.
The label says, 150 million years old. Microhistory. A lost world held in my hand! Better still, it makes me feel so young…..
So I bought the unromantic ammonite, took it home and spent the weekend wondering where to put it.