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216 × 138 × 27 mm
288 pages
71 illustrations
12 Oct 2020

Dragons’ Teeth and Thunderstones The Quest for the Meaning of Fossils Ken McNamara

For at least half a million years, people have been doing some very strange things with fossils. Long before a few seventeenth-century minds started to decipher their true, organic nature, fossils had been eaten, dropped in goblets of wine, buried with the dead and adorned bodies. What triggered such curious behaviour was the belief that some fossils could cure illness, protect against being poisoned, ease the passage into the afterlife, ward off evil spirits and even kill those who were just plain annoying. But above all, to our early prehistoric ancestors, fossils were the very stuff of artistic inspiration.

Drawing on archaeology, mythology and folklore, Ken McNamara takes you on a journey through prehistory with these curious stones, and explores humankind’s unending quest for the meaning of fossils.

‘In his new book Ken McNamara examines the archeological record, as well as folklore, mythology, and the history of natural philosophy to discover and explain how fossils have the subject of both fear as well as fascination, and as a result have been understood by and incorporated into the societal practices of peoples spanning millennia all around the planet.’ — The Well-read Naturalist

‘McNamara opens window after window on the use and interpretation of fossils by different cultures from Ireland to Australia over the millennia and up to the present. Through the strange mediaeval mythologies of dragons teeth, stone swallows, toadstones, thunderstones, snakestones and devil’s toenails, an even more ancient tradition is uncovered.’ — Douglas Palmer, author of 'A History of Earth in 100 Groundbreaking Discoveries' (2011)

‘A fascinating account of fossils as objects of mystical, mythological, and practical significance to ancient humans, thousands of years before written history or modern science.’ — Olivia Judson, Honorary Research Fellow at Imperial College London and author of 'Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex'

‘This is a unique book. There are plenty of titles out there on fossils, and this book has fossils at its heart - but it's not really about them. It is, rather, an exploration of humanity's attempts to understand what fossils are and what (if anything) they might do for us . . . it's not about fossils, not about the search for fossils, but about the search for the meaning of fossils . . . The approach is engaging and different. The revelation of the vast length of time fossils have been collected is remarkable.’ — PopularScience.co.uk

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Ken McNamara is a palaeontologist and former Director of the Sedgwick Museum at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of Shapes of Time (1997) and The Star-crossed Stone (2010).

1 A Timeless Obsession
2 In the Myths of Time
3 The Stuff of Legends
4 Fashioning the Stone
5 Delighting the Mind
6 Saving the Soul
7 Protecting the Body
8 Curing the Body
9 The Dark Side
10 A Joke of Time

Photo Acknowledgements