Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Folklore of fossil echinoderms

Some Cretaceous echinoids, notably Micraster (Fig. 2), Echinocorys (Fig. 3) and Conulus (Fig. 4), have been given the name ‘Shepherd’s crowns’ in English folklore. The five rays converging on the apex of the fossil do indeed resemble the ribs of a crown. According to Bassett (1982), shepherds may have come across these fossils, eroded from the underlying chalk, while caring for their sheep on the downlands of southern England.
St Peter’s Church (Fig. 5) in the small Hampshire village of Linkenholt is remarkable for the incorporation of Chalk echinoids into the walls. On the north side of this church, a tall window is capped by a square arch containing 20 flint echinoids (Fig. 6), while a larger window on the south side has a rounded arch inset with 25 similar Shepherd’s crowns (Fig. 7). These echinoids were apparently recycled into the fabric of this small Victorian church from its thirteenth century predecessor, thus preserving a legacy of the pagan belief that they had the power to ward off the Devil (McNamara, 2011).

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