The museum recently received this fine specimen, and provided along with it were two alternative labels:
Fossil gastropod Lower Jurassic period (~200Ma).
Living in the Tethys sea this gastropod; similar to a slipper limpet, eventually died and was buried in sediment where it was fossilised.
150 million years later, the continent of Africa collided with Europe during the Alpine Orogeny, creating the Alpine mountain range. This impact caused the paleo seabed to be lifted up, forming large parts of central France, including Burgundy where the gastropod was eventually picked up by a passing geologist in 2017.
Fossilised remains (toenail)- Common Burgundian Ogre / Orcus Troglodytes
Fossil Records suggest that the Common Burgundian Ogre roamed large swaths of Continental Europe for much of the last million years.
Standing between 2.5 and 4 meters tall; with some Bull Ogres reaching 4.5 meters, they were the Eurasian continent’s apex predator until the rise of Modern Man and our superior intellect.
Over the last 1,000 years they were hunted into extinction due to being highly prestigious hunting trophies, and because of their use in primitive fertility medicine.
The last documented sighting of a Common Burgundian Ogre was in 1368 when Sir Tristan de Leon of La Rochepot vanquished a large female specimen after it decimated the local livestock.
The geologist mentioned above was in possession of the scientific facts regarding the stone, which he dutifully submitted - but obviously had a lot of fun with the second explanation too! I have decided that I will exhibit the stone with one explanation part of the time and part of the time with the other since they are both important and compelling in their own ways.
This particular stone got me thinking – which explanation is best? Which is most informative and/or inspiring? Which, real or fake, most provokes learning?
When I have lead storytelling workshops in schools, I often show them two fascinating objects from a couple of my favourite museums. The Horniman Merman and the ‘Witch in a bottle’ from the Pitt Rivers Museum:
I explain what we know about each – the research that has gone into exposing the former as a fake made up of fish remains, wire and clay; the latter, having never been opened so as not to destroy it. The contents of this second object remain a mystery because x-rays are ineffective on it’s metal exterior.
I asked the children which they preferred or were most interested in. More often than not the conversation came back to what might be inside the bottle, and whether they would open it or not (taking into account the curse involved in that procedure). Though the scientific discoveries that have been made about the merman are extremely important, I think that mystery and imagination also have invaluable parts to play in learning. My niece who recently visited the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum and now won’t stop roaring is a testament to this!
Too often we throw the baby out with the bathwater when we discount the importance of the fantastical, the unexplained and unfinished along side and complementary to scientific ‘fact’. Many friends of mine who are teachers complain they have to spend too much of their time concentrating on rote learning and testing in primary schools, leaving no time for children’s natural curiosity and the generation of new ideas through more creative subjects.
Another reason reason I like the second (fake) explanation and the bottle above is that they will provoke children to ask questions – “could it really be possible?” And “should I always accept what my teachers say as fact?” For the inquiring young mind, this is much more important than accepting large quantities of factual material unquestioningly. In addition, it is healthy to have in mind that there is always much that we don’t know, that will continue to be a mystery, which we can still discover.
“While modern scientists are not chasing mermaids around the world like their early modern counterparts, they have hardly lost the urge to push research to the wondrous, even mythical edge.”
- Vaughn Scribner in History Today, May 2018, 59
“Knowledge is provisional, open-ended and insufficient… wonder opens up new possibilities”
- Caspar Henderson, 2017, 24
After all the word ‘atom’ means unbreakable, and if we had taken that at face value we wouldn't have done just the opposite!