Monday, May 31, 2010

Sharks in Malta Part I - 'L-Ilsna ta' San Pawl'

The Sicilian Agostino Scilla was one of the first Europeans (together with Nicholas Steno in Denmark) to systematically study fossils and extract information about them empirically, as opposed to his contemporaries' tendency to attribute fossils to supernatural forces or a slew of mythical creatures.

Frontispiece of Agostino Scilla's 'La Vana Speculazione', 1670 - note the variety of fossils on the lower right

Both Scilla and Steno arrived to conclusions that were beginning to shape the science of geology as it is known today, in particular the then-controversial notion that fossils are derived from once-living organisms.

Interestingly, some of the fossils which both chose to illustrate in their works were obtained from Malta. These fossils are the famous glossopetrae (tongue stones), or, more accurately, fossil shark teeth, which during the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods were considered to be a miraculous cure for a variety of ailments (Zammit Maempel, 1975; 1989). Malta was the centre of a lucrative business in these shark teeth and it is not hard to see how specimens could have come in Scilla and Steno's possession.

Carcharocles megalodon (Agassiz, 1843) teeth from the C2 Phosphorite Conglomerate, Malta

Most of these glossopetrae belong to the extinct Carcharocles megalodon (Agassiz, 1843), one of the largest fish ever to exist on Earth. An approximation of its size (in grey and red) compared to the modern (and morphologically similar) great white shark, Carcharodon carcharias (L., 1758) (in green) can be seen below.


The local name for these particular fossils is 'Ilsien San Pawl' (= St. Paul's Tongue) due to the belief that they formed inside the rocks while St. Paul was shipwrecked on Malta in the year 60 A. D. (Acts of the Apostles, 28: 2-7). During this episode, St. Paul shrugged off a snake which attacked him and threw it into an open fire, symbolically ridding the islands of poisonous 'vermin'.

'St. Paul's Shipwreck', by Stefano Erardi, 1683 - note the snake falling out of the main figure's hands into the fire

Carcharocles teeth from the collection of Sir Hans Sloane are also the oldest Maltese fossils in the British Museum (cf. Galea Bonavia, 2003).

References:

Galea Bonavia, C., 2003. Carcharocles megalodon (Agassiz) (Lamnidae: Neoselachae): A historical note. The Central Mediterranean Naturalist, 4 (1): 105.

Scilla, A., 1670. La vana speculazione disingannata dal senso: lettera responsiva circa i corpi marini, che petrificati si trovano in varii luoghi terrestri. Napoli: Colicchia.

Sloane, H., undated. Se la Virtu’ alessifarmaca della Terra, Glossopetre conchiti, Achini ed altre pietre figurate che si cavano dalle Rocche di Malta, sia innata o Miraculosa. Unpublished manuscript, Sloane Collection – British Library MS no. 763.

Zammit Maempel, G., 1975. Fossil sharks' teeth: a medieval safeguard against poisoning. Melita Historica, 6: 391-406.

Zammit Maempel, G., 1989. The Folklore of Maltese fossils. Papers in Mediterranean Social Studies, 1: 1-29.

4 comments:

  1. wow i have that megalodon tooth dude! :):( ><_

    ReplyDelete
  2. HELLO
    More worries for your financial problems !!!!! We offer loans of all categories, short and long term ranging from 5.000€ to 5.000.000€ with a very affordable repayment term, the interest rate is 2%.
    We had clients who are willing to invest in your project, or another in your business, whether as a shareholder or joint venture.
    They are also willing to invest in other viable and lucrative business in your Country or another. The investor for whom we are looking for partners has the opportunity to finance projects from 10 to 150.000.000.00$.
    They are also willing to invest in all kinds of projects,
    Projects that will be profitable.
    These investors want to invest in any country especially in continents EUROPE, ASIA, AMERICA all over the world.
    Anyone with projects or any company and company that need, investment meet and we will give more opinion on how we can excel, and I will give you more details regarding our plans.

    Thank you for contacting us.
    Contact mail: moncredit03@gmail.com, contact@particulier-invest.com
    Contact whatsapp: +33789414619
    Our website: particulier-invest.com

    ReplyDelete
  3. LOAN OFFER!!!

    We are Stephen Williams loan Service we Provides both long and short term loan financing. We offer secure and confidential loans at a very low interest rate of 2% per year, Personal loans, Debt Consolidation Loan, Venture Capital, Business Loan, Corporate Loans, Educational Loan, Home Loan and Loans for any reason!

    We are the trusted alternative to bank financing, and our application process is simple and straight forward. Our loan ranges from $5,000.00 to $25, 000,000.00. (Twenty Five Million Dollars). Additional Info: We're fast becoming the private, discreet, and service oriented lending choice for general loans. We're the company to turn to when traditional lending sources fail.

    If you are interested do not hesitate to contact us with information’s below by Email, stephenswillsloan@gmail.com

    Warm Regards,
    Mr. Stephen Williams,
    Head, Loans Application Department,
    STEPHEN WILLIAMS LOAN SERVICE,
    Email: stephenswillsloan@gmail.com
    Twiiter: @stephenswillsl1
    Instagram: stephenswillsloan

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello Everybody,
    My name is Ahmad Asnul Brunei, I contacted Mr Osman Loan Firm for a business loan amount of $250,000, Then i was told about the step of approving my requested loan amount, after taking the risk again because i was so much desperate of setting up a business to my greatest surprise, the loan amount was credited to my bank account within 24 banking hours without any stress of getting my loan. I was surprise because i was first fall a victim of scam! If you are interested of securing any loan amount & you are located in any country, I'll advise you can contact Mr Osman Loan Firm via email osmanloanserves@gmail.com

    LOAN APPLICATION INFORMATION FORM
    First name......
    Middle name.....
    2) Gender:.........
    3) Loan Amount Needed:.........
    4) Loan Duration:.........
    5) Country:.........
    6) Home Address:.........
    7) Mobile Number:.........
    8) Email address..........
    9) Monthly Income:.....................
    10) Occupation:...........................
    11)Which site did you here about us.....................
    Thanks and Best Regards.
    Derek Email osmanloanserves@gmail.com



    Hello Everybody,
    My name is Ahmad Asnul Brunei, I contacted Mr Osman Loan Firm for a business loan amount of $250,000, Then i was told about the step of approving my requested loan amount, after taking the risk again because i was so much desperate of setting up a business to my greatest surprise, the loan amount was credited to my bank account within 24 banking hours without any stress of getting my loan. I was surprise because i was first fall a victim of scam! If you are interested of securing any loan amount & you are located in any country, I'll advise you can contact Mr Osman Loan Firm via email osmanloanserves@gmail.com

    LOAN APPLICATION INFORMATION FORM
    First name......
    Middle name.....
    2) Gender:.........
    3) Loan Amount Needed:.........
    4) Loan Duration:.........
    5) Country:.........
    6) Home Address:.........
    7) Mobile Number:.........
    8) Email address..........
    9) Monthly Income:.....................
    10) Occupation:...........................
    11)Which site did you here about us.....................
    Thanks and Best Regards.
    Derek Email osmanloanserves@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...