The Oldest Thing in My Possession.

The Oldest Thing in My Possession.


Working from this title I find myself grappling with a number of concepts:

Do we really ever possess anything? Or do we just borrow it for a period of time before destroying it or passing it on?

Would the oldest things be the rocks we have in our garden?

I put aside those philosophical considerations.

I own many old things – one of which is my body. I have a number of minerals that I still keep from my childhood museum. I used to collect minerals. I liked crystals and rocks. They delight me. Some of them are probably billions of years old. But I decided, on an arbitrary whim, that I would not include them.

Probably the oldest thing in my possession is a fossil ammonite. (I also used to collect fossils).

This particular ammonite has a metallic sheen, its calcareous skeleton replaced by metallic salts. I found it on the beach between Charmouth and Lyme Regis when, as a boy, I went fossil hunting with my parents. So it has sentimental value.

Ammonites are the remains of creatures that went extinct sixty five million years ago. They abounded in the warm, shallow seas at the time of the dinosaurs. They were creatures related to present day squid and cuttlefish – their nearest surviving relative being the nautilus. The looked like an octopus with a spiral shell.

I hold that in my hand and think.

I can remember walking along those beaches back in the late fifties with my parents and getting excited about the huge ammonites in the boulders (they have all been carted off to museums now).

I can imagine the creature that inhabited this spiral beauty of a shell swimming around in the sea above my head.

What was once so plentiful is now no more. The seas were teeming with these creatures. Sixty five million years ago it would have been unthinkable that they are all gone. Now they are a layer in a cliff.

We too will one day be reduced to a layer in the rocks.

It also makes me think of global warming. Where I am sitting was once covered in warm tropical water. These creatures swam above my head. Much of Britain and the world was under water.

Would it be such a bad thing if it became like that again?

Terrible for us I know. Most of our cities and agricultural land are close to sea level. They would be gone. It would likely signal the end of civilisation and possibly our own demise.

Is it such a bad thing to be reduced to a layer in the rocks?

I turn that fossil in my hand and I wonder.

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