Ancient views on the nature of fossils

   In early times, strange looking objects we now know to be fossils were picked up or found stuck to rocks by our ancestors. They believed that they had fallen from the sky, or that they were made inside the rocks, and even had magical properties. Later on, as the formation of rock became better understood, it was said that fossils were animals or plants which had turned into stone. They were given fanciful names, like 'snake-stones' for the curled up shells of ammonites, and 'swallow-stones' for the wing-like shells of brachiopods. The pointed shells of belemnites (meaning dart stones) were looked upon as thunderbolts shot from the sky. Fossil sponges were seen as stony mushrooms.
   How do fossils get into the rocks? During the late seventeenth century it was widely believed that the story of the Biblical Flood explained the drowning of many creatures which then turned into stone. One scientist even described a fossil skeleton as a man who had drowned in the Flood, and actually described him as homo deluvii testis the 'man who witnessed the flood'. It turned out to be a salamander.