Shells and pebbles



Boo! A peek into the iconography of the rearing dinosaur.

By Ilja Nieuwland


Poster for the first edition of Camille Flammarion’s Le monde avant la création de l’homme (‘The world before man’s creation’), 1886

Parisians who visited a newsstand or book store in the spring of 1886 were confronted with the frightening prospect of a dinosaurian intrusion into their sixth-floor apartments. It was introduced to them by a poster that was part of the advertising campaign for French author Camille Flammarion’s new book (and newspaper serial) Le monde avant la création de l’homme (‘The world before man’s creation’).The whole approach of the publicity campaign turned out to be a good indication of the tone of the book. Flammarion’s book was a work of popular science, and sought to awe and entertain its readers as much as inform them. Although the rather overweight dinosaur here borrows heavily from the reconstructions made about fifteen years earlier by Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins for the Crystal Palace exhibition, the image of a dinosaur standing next a high building looking into its top floors would prove compelling enough to last.



The case of the cat in court

By Noortje Jacobs and Steven van der Laan

Do animals carry legal obligations? To the twenty-first century reader of Shells & Pebbles this question might appear to be odd. Surely, only in fables pigs are summoned to appear before a judge to be held accountable for any misdemeanour. Not quite. In past centuries, animal trials were not unheard of. In fact, one might wonder with the advent of the animal rights movement in the twentieth century, whatever happened to animal duties? A blog post on a cat in court.

cat in court


A Rambo Trilogy in Early Modern Europe

An Interview with Professor Margaret Jacob, by Jorrit Smit


Royce Hall, UCLA

On one of those sunny, warm, Californian fall afternoons, I meet professor Margaret Jacob in the Herbert Morris Seminar Room on the first floor of Royce Hall in the middle of the UCLA campus. The well-known early-modern scholar has just entertained a crowd of scholars, students and unidentified passers-by with a talk on Unitarianism in 18th and 19th century Britain. The high correlation between rich industrialists and Unitarianism, she observes, is not captured by Weber’s alleged association of capitalism with Protestantism. It is one of those things she has stumbled upon in a long and rich career in intellectual and cultural history of Early Modern Europe. On Unitarianism, she hopes to write a book one day, but for now the talk suffices.


Headless chicken

By Ilja Nieuwland

Ever wondered about the picture above? It is a lithographical engraving from 1866 depicting Archaeopteryx – without the head. Initially, I thought that I saw a head there, but apparently there isn’t. You see, this was drawn only five years after the London Archaeopteryx was discovered – which (at least initially) lacked a skull. The drawing originally appeared in Louis Figuier’s The Earth before the Deluge in 1866; this one is from a Dutch translation (thrown together with a work by Oscar Fraas) by E.M. Beima, a curator from the Dutch natural history museum at Leiden. The whole illustration looks like this:


Newman’s flying bats

By Ilja Nieuwland


From: Edward Newman (1843), “Note on the Pterodactyle Tribe considered as Marsupial Bats”. The Zoologist 1, p. 129. Comment: “The upper figure represents Pterodactylus crassirostris, the lower, Pter. brevirostris”.


The Subtle Spiral of Life & Death.

By Fedde Benedictus

Figure 1

Figure 1: The shell of a Nautilus-mollusk.

Buried beneath spirals

Ever since humans began using stone slabs for the decoration and demarcation of their gravesites, masonry has been employed to show the social status of the deceased individual. In this tradition, the Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli chose the figure of a logarithmic spiral to be carved onto his gravestone. The latin motto Eadem mutata resurgo (“Changed and yet the same, I rise again”) was to surround the spiral. However, when he died in 1705, the stonemasons that were responsible for the beautification of Bernoulli’s grave carved an Archimedean instead of a logarithmic spiral into it (see figure 2). And by doing so, they made a crucial mistake.


Bell Rock lighthouse

Door Daan Haalboom

De Inchcape, of Bell Rock, een rots voor de kust van Schotland, is eeuwenlang het toneel geweest van talloze scheepsrampen. Het bij laagtij nét boven de waterspiegel uitstekende rif werd zo gevreesd door zeelieden dat zij vaak de zekerheid van een razende Noordzee en het gevaar van een stranding op de nabije kusten verkozen boven een mogelijke benadering van de Bell Rock. Gelegen op 12 mijl uit de kust wees niets op de aanwezigheid van het rif, maar sinds 1810 waarschuwt het kenmerkende rood-witte schijnsel van de Bell Rock Lighthouse voor deze rots.


1: Een overzicht van de Bell Rock en North Carr (the Hydrological Office)