An ichnological poem.

Oldhamia Antiqua, from Wikimedia Commons

Oldhamia Antiqua, from Wikimedia Commons

The roots of ichnology lies between Art and Science. During the Renaissance, the study of Ichnology starts as an aesthetic appreciation of the traces. This can be found in the work of Leonardo, Aldrovandi, Gesner and Bauhin. In 1837,  Edward Hitchcock published “The Sandstone Bird”, probably the first ichnological poem and in 1880, Irish geologist and engineer John Joly wrote a beautiful sonnet  about the ichnogenus Oldhamia:


Is nothing left? Have all things passed thee by?

The stars are not thy stars! The aged hills

Are changed and bowed beneath repeated ills

Of ice and snow, of river and of sky.

The sea that raiseth now in agony

Is not thy sea. The stormy voice that fills

This gloom with man’s remotest sorrow shrills

The memory of the futurity!

We – promise of the ages! – Lift thine eyes,

And gazing on these tendrils intertwined

For Aeons in the shadows, recognize

In Hope and Joy, in heaven-seeking Mind,

In Faith, in Love, in Reason’s potent spell

The visitants that bid a world farewell!

John Joly (1857–1933) in his early twenties (from Wyse Jackson, 2007).
John Joly (1857–1933) in his early twenties (from Wyse Jackson, 2007).

Oldhamia was described since the second half of the XIX century. This ichnogenus was named in honor to British geologist Thomas Oldham, and it’s mostly described in deep marine environments of the lower Cambrian. It’s produced by worm-like organism. Seilacher, in 2005, concluded that Oldhamia represents an ecological association which would become rare after the Cambrian agronomic revolution.


Patrick N. Wyse Jackson (2011) History of Ichnology: John Joly (1857–1933) on Oldhamia: Poetic
and Scientific Observations, Ichnos: An International Journal for Plant and Animal Traces, 18:4, 209-212, DOI:


3 thoughts on “An ichnological poem.

    • About the subject, I highly recommend Seilacher, Adolf; Luis A. Buatoisb, M. Gabriela Mángano (2005-10-07). “Trace fossils in the Ediacaran–Cambrian transition: Behavioral diversification, ecological turnover and environmental shift”. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 227 (4): 323–356. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2005.06.003, and a more recent paper: The Tommotian phase of the Early Cambrian Agronomic Revolution in the carbonate mud environment of central Siberia

  1. Pingback: John Joly – PalaeoPoems

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