Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Poetry of Fossils -- First Thoughts

There is a beauty in fossils that is surprising. Often the beauty flashes from a dull and drab environment, such as when the gleaming crown of a tooth catches your eye in the gray winter surf. And it need not just be all flash, since the tooth may be the creation of myriad sweeping curves, as in this tooth from a Hemipristis serra. The common name of this shark – snaggletooth – belies the attraction of the individual teeth. (This specimen is from the mid-Miocene epoch, perhaps 10 million years ago, and is a bit more than one inch tall on the slant.)

There is, of course, a more fundamental contradiction, something oxymoronic, in ascribing beauty to the teeth of a merciless predator.

Hard to imagine that one of the ear bones from a cetacean would be so graceful as to inspire poetry, but it is. The fossilized tympanic bulla shown below (somewhat damaged by the years) is from a toothed cetacean, possibly a river dolphin. (This specimen is also from the mid-Miocene and is one and half inches long.)

Of the cetacean tympanic bullae, the artist and author Jasper Burns was moved to describe them in a poem as “like a frozen wave” shaped by “the swirling sea.” (untitled poem in Fossil Dreams (2007))

No comments:

Post a Comment

Nature Blog Network