Throughout the four hundred thousand years that humanity has been
collecting fossils, sea urchin fossils, or echinoids, have
continually been among the most prized, from the Paleolithic era,
when they decorated flint axes, to today, when paleobiologists
study them for clues to the earth s history.
In "The Star-Crossed Stone," Kenneth J. McNamara, an expert on
fossil echinoids, takes readers on an incredible fossil hunt, with
stops in history, paleontology, folklore, mythology, art, religion,
and much more. Beginning with prehistoric times, when urchin
fossils were used as jewelry, McNamara reveals how the fossil crept
into the religious and cultural lives of societies around the world
the roots of the familiar five-pointed star, for example, can be
traced to the pattern found on urchins. But McNamara s vision is
even broader than that: using our knowledge of early habits of
fossil collecting, he explores the evolution of the human mind
itself, drawing striking conclusions about humanity s earliest
appreciation of beauty and the first stirrings of artistic
expression. Along the way, the fossil becomes a nexus through which
we meet brilliant eccentrics and visionary archaeologists and
develop new insights into topics as seemingly disparate as
hieroglyphics, "Beowulf," and even church organs.
An idiosyncratic celebration of science, nature, and human
ingenuity, "The Star-Crossed Stone "is as charming and
unforgettable as the fossil at its heart.
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