Pyritised Ammonite

Pyritised Ammonite

Sparkling fossils of marine creatures which inhabited the world up to 400 million years ago, these are truly exceptional windows into our planet’s past. The incredible chemical reaction between a high concentration of iron and sulphur in the seawater produced Pyrite, which went to replace the Ammonite cell by cell, conveying it gold-like lustre and longevity. Stunning Pyritised Ammonites are also much appreciated for their ability to draw in and filter negative energy later releasing it as positive, fresh and loving energy.

What is Pyritised Ammonite?
Pyritised Ammonite is a fossilised prehistoric sea creature, similar to a snail in shape, whose organic matter has been replaced by shiny gold crystals of Pyrite, through an amazing natural process call pyritisation.

How does pyritisation occur?
Fossils occurred when the bodies of ancient animals or plants were encased in some form of mud or sand which, over great expanses of time, turned into rock. Slowly, minerals from the matrix surrounding the animal or plant seeped into the organic matter gradually replacing it. If the mineral replacing the organic matter was different enough from the surrounding mineral or rock, it would have made it possible to separate the two and rediscover the original shape of the living creature. 

A fossil is usually described in two different ways: what it is a remnant of and what mineral it is made out of. In fact, a fossil can be formed by a whole range of different minerals. One of the most striking and glistening minerals is Pyrite, also known as ‘fool’s gold’ because of its marvellous colour and gold-like lustre. The process by which, under unique geochemical conditions, the organic matter of a once-living creature was replaced, cell-by-cell, by this beautiful mineral is called pyritisation. 

The replacement of organic matter with Pyrite is caused by a process which required both aerobic bacteria (needing oxygen to survive) and anaerobic bacteria (needing little or no oxygen to survive). Therefore, the process can only occur in levels of sediment in which both types of bacteria are present and which have the right amount of reactive iron.

When an Ammonite’s body was first buried under ocean sediments, anaerobic bacteria would begin to break down the organic material, reducing sulphur and producing sulphide. The reaction of reduced sulphur with the high concentration of  iron and iron minerals present in the sediments would have resulted in the formation of iron sulphides, which would later become oxidized by the aerobic bacteria, forming Pyrite. This gold-like mineral would then seep into the decomposing organisms forming truly spectacular fossils. 

Fossils formed this way have been known to preserve the shapes of the soft tissue, making these invaluable for scientific research. Famous examples of such pyritised fossils  are in the Beecher's Trilobite Bed, in New York State. In this location, Trilobites have been replaced by Pyrite, producing a fossil that replicates the anatomical structure of the trilobite's internal organs.
Once unearthed, pyritised fossils can be quite delicate as they can be subject to ‘Pyrite disease’. This is a condition by which, once exposed to the moisture in the air, beautiful specimens of Pyrite oxidize causing them to disintegrate and turn into powder. This condition only affects unstable Pyrite; most Pyrite is more stable. 

Where can Pyritised Ammonite be found?
Wherever there once was oxygen deficient (anaerobic) seawater and a high concentration of reactive iron. The formation of Pyrite in ocean sediments is largely determined by the availability, in reasonable enough quantities, of sulphates, reactive iron and reactive organic matter in the course of the formation of said sediments. In fact, pyritised fossils are incredibly useful to geologists as they constitute a fabulous record of the past environments of the planet.

What is Pyrite?
Pyrite is an iron disulfide which presents isometric crystals in the form of glistening cubes or pyritohedrons. It is also commonly known as ‘Fool’s Gold’, due to its gold-like lustre and though it can be often mistaken for gold, it is much more brittle and harder than gold and, therefore, cannot be cut or shaped. Furthermore, while gold has no odour, Pyrite is known to give off a slight sulphurous smell.

For further information on Pyrite please refer to the ‘Pyrite’ info page on this website. 

What are Ammonites?
Ammonoids are extinct prehistoric marine mollusks, which belong to the Cephalopoda class and the Ammonoidea subclass. They are more closely related to living coleoids, such as squid, octopuses and cuttlefish, than they are to nautilus. Ammonite shell fossils typically take the form of planispirals, though helically spiralled and nonspiralled forms also exist. Furthermore, Ammonites are considered exceptional index fossils, as they make it possible for geologists to link the particular rock layer in which a specimen (and in fact a species or genus) is found to a specific geologic time period.

Ammonites came in all sorts of different sizes, largely depending on their species. Among the largest species found in Europe, is the Parapuzosia Seppenradensis of the Cretaceous Period,  which could reach 2 metres (6.5 ft) in diameter. Other species include the Titanites from the Jurassic period, often found in southern England, with specimens typically measuring around 53 cm (2 ft) in diameter, and the Parapuzosia Bradyi from the Cretaceous period, recovered in North America, which could measure 137 cm (4.5 ft) in diameter.

Anatomy of an Ammonite
These creatures began life as tiny plankton-like beings. In their infancy they would have been vulnerable to the attack from predators as they had no shell and measured less than 1mm in diameter. However, they quickly acquired a robust protective case, called ‘phragmocone’, which would have shielded their soft interior. Evidence suggests that they would have rapidly gained in size (with females often growing to be 400% larger than males).

As can be observed from the cross-section of an Ammonite fossil, the shell comprised of individual, progressively larger chambers, called ‘camerae’, divided by  fine walls called ‘septa’ (singular = septum).  As the living animal grew, it gradually added a larger chamber to the open end of the coil to make space for its larger body. The mollusk would have occupied only the last and largest chamber of the phragmocone. 
The other camerae forming the phragmocone functioned as ‘air chambers’ through which the given Ammonite could regulate its buoyancy, just as a submarine would. These camerae were in fact filled with gas and cameral fluid which the Ammonite could adjust by osmosis thanks to a ‘siphon’, a narrow tubular structure which connected all of the camerae. Thanks to such process of osmosis, the mollusc could control the density of the cameral fluid or gas thus raising or descending in the ocean waters.

Ammonites thus retained their original shell throughout their life, with each chamber growing as the creature inhabiting the  phragmocone grew. The mollusk would have secreted a new camera at a rate of one every four weeks, and would have thus created 13 chambers each year. This can be used as a guideline to work out the approximate age of an Ammonite (which had an average life expectancy of  two years).

Some specimens of ammonite fossils present intricate patterned details on their outer shell, usually visible if a given fossil has been polished or subject to weathering. These patterns are called ‘sutures’ and are found beneath the external wall of the shell, marking where the internal septum meets the outer wall of the shell. These sutures are believed to have made the shell more robust, enabling it to handle the great pressure it would have been exposed to at deeper depths. 

When the outer-whorl of the Ammonite shell tends to cover the preceding whorls, the specimen is defined as ‘involute’, while if it does not tend to cover the preceding whorls it is said to be ‘evolute’.

When did Ammonite live?
These prehistoric creatures populated the oceans between 416 and 65 million years ago.  The earliest Ammonites appeared during the Devonian Period (of the Paleozoic Era) and became extinct alongside the dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period (of the Mesozoic Era). 

In the course of their evolution, Ammonites faced three catastrophic events which would eventually lead to their extinction. The first event took place towards the end of the Permian Period (252 million years ago) in the Paleozoic Era and was caused by the sudden release of high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. Also known as The Great Dying, this event lead to a great loss of biodiversity and the extinction of 96% of marine life, with a loss of 90% of all Ammonites. 

The surviving 10% flourished throughout the Triassic period (Mesozoic Era), but around 206 million years ago again faced near extinction, as only one ammonite species survived, the Phylloceratid Ammonoids. This second event is known as the End-Triassic extinction, also called Triassic-Jurassic extinction, and lead to the demise of 76% of all marine and terrestrial species. It is thought this was due to huge and widespread volcanic eruptions, with consequent release of large quantities of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the sudden rise of sea levels. In the course of the following Jurassic Period ammonites flourished once more with the number of species growing again. 

The third and final catastrophic event occurred at the end of the Cretaceous Period (Mesozoic Era), when all Ammonite species were annihilated. This is known as the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, or the Cretaceous–Tertiary extinction, which took place approximately 66 million years ago and lead to the extinction of 75% of all plant and animal species. It is now generally thought that this last event was triggered by the violent impact of a massive asteroid or comet on Earth, which had disastrous effects on the global environment, including a lingering impact winter which made it impossible for plankton and plants to carry out any photosynthesis. 

How to take care of your Pyritised Ammonite specimens
Humidity may cause the decay of Pyritised Ammonite fossils, so it is important to keep specimens clean and dry. Also, if you find a sample near the shore, make sure to wash it thoroughly to remove any salt and then dry it carefully before storing it.

The origin of its name
‘Pyritised’ comes from ‘Pyrite’, which in turn derives from the Greek word ‘pyros’ (meaning ‘fire’), referring to the fact that, when struck with another metal or mineral, a Pyrite stone will create sparks (Pyrite nodules can in fact be used to ignite a fire).
The name ‘Ammonite’ instead, was inspired by the shape of the shells, which might be said to resemble tightly coiled rams’ horns. It was Pliny the Elder in the first century AD who named the fossilised shells ‘ammonis cornua’ (meaning ‘horns of Ammon’) after the Egyptian god Ammon (Amun), usually depicted wearing ram’s horns.

Around  the world and across history
In medieval Europe ammonites were called “draconites” as they were believed to come from the heads of dragons. They were also known as “snakestone” or “serpentstones” among occult circles as they were thought to be petrified coiled snakes. Traders were known to carve a snake’s head onto the wide end of the Ammonite fossil, to sell them as petrified snakes. 

Furthermore, in seventh century England they were considered to be the evidence of the miracles of saints such as Saint Hilda of Whitby and Saint Patrick, and were thus believed to have oracular or healing powers. For instance, it was believed that when Saint Hilda prayed for the protection of people from the snake infested River Esk, the slithering creatures all coiled up and rolled off the cliffs, instantly turning into stone.

In Nepal, Ammonites from the Gandaki River are known as saligrams, and are believed by Hindus to be a manifestation of Vishnu (the four armed god, Sustainer of the Universe).

Properties of Pyritised Ammonite
Fossils are a window into the past and a symbol of the passing of time, eternity and evolution. Generally, they are considered protective objects to be worn as jewellery to enhance one’s natural defences. More specifically Ammonites are said to add stability and structure to one’s life, helping increase vitality and stamina while also enhancing one’s survival instincts and abilities.

On a physical level, they are useful healing stones when trying to resolve problems related to blood pressure or pathologies of the ears and lungs.

Ammonites function as a filter, drawing off negative energies. These astounding fossils draw in dense, negative energies, moving them through the spiral shell, and later release them as positive, fresh and loving energies. 

From an emotional and psychic perspective, Ammonites are said to be of great support during periods of depression, as they help lift the heaviness sometimes felt in these moments and find purpose. Furthermore, they are known to help eliminate caustic personality traits as negative energies are transformed into positive ones.

They are recommended as ornaments to have in the home to attract health, prosperity and success.

These are beautiful fossils of particular significance to those who work in the fields of construction or architecture. Ammonites help gain insight into creative problems, allowing one to visualize a project from beginning to end. Esoteric Ammonites
Ammonites encase a strong positive Earth energy, with their spiral shapes representing constant change and evolution. It is as if, because Ammonites have absorbed cosmic energy over vast expanses of time, they are able to utilse such energy to stimulate Chi, the life force within. These gorgeous fossils are often used to activate Kundalini (the primal energy, or shakti, located at the base of the spine) and life path energies. Moreover, Ammonites are known to help release karmic debris and harmful thought patterns, while helping attain and enhance personal power within the Self.