Sidney N. Caccioppoli '21, Gettysburg College

Document Type

Student Research Paper

Publication Date

Fall 2017

Department 1



Fossils collected in Renaissance collection cabinets were items of wonder and curiosity. Although sometimes mistaken for other pieces of naturalia, they were widely collected by owners of princely cabinets and scholarly collections.Though naturalists and collectors often kept fossils in their collections, they did not have the same understanding as we do today of what they are. Due to their belief in mythological monsters and naturalia with magical properties, there were often misinterpretations or mislabeled objects to something they were not. According to Kenseth’s “A World of Wonders in One Closet Shut,” some collectors believed that fossilized shark’s teeth were “adders’ tongues,” and that they could be used as antidotes to poison. Just as whale ribs were mistaken for “giant bones,” and narwhal tusks were mistaken for “unicorn horns,” fossils were also often misunderstood. [excerpt]

Streaming Media

Media is loading


Produced as part of a collaboration between Kay Etheridge's course FYS-188: Exploration of the Marvelous: Art and Science in the Renaissance, and Felicia Else's course ARTH 284: Wonders of Nature and Artifice: The Renaissance Quest for Knowledge.

Original version online at

Audio guide on fossils included.