A Digital Curiosity Cabinet

Archive for January, 2014

Shark’s Tooth

Pliny the Elder (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79) was a Roman author, philosopher and naturalist. He was the first to to write about the magical properties of shark teeth. He writes that a shark tooth is,

‘like the human tongue, does not form in the ground, but falls from the sky during the waning of the moon, and is indispensible for selenomancy. Our scepticism about this is reinforced by another claim, that it stops gales.”

Selenomancy is a way of telling someone’s fortune using the moon. Pliny is very cynical about the magical powers of shark teeth and casts doubt on the idea that they can stop strong winds.


During the Rennaissance period, it was thought that sharks teeth were the fossilized tongues of snakes or dragons. They were used as a cure for snake bites and other poisons. This shark’s tooth was found at the Red Crag Basal Bed in Woodbridge, Suffolk. It has two holes drilled in it so that it could be worn as a charm to keep away disease.

H.G. Wells’ Tooth

H. G. Wells had this tooth removed by a dentist called Mr Runeckles between 1930 and 1931. Mr Runeckles was working as an apprentice at a dental practise in Harley Street at the time. He decided to keep the tooth as a souvenir as he was such a big fan of H.G. Wells. He even engraved the authors’ name onto the tooth with a dental drill!


Skull Cup

John Lubbock (1834-1913) was a banker, politician, geologist, zoologist, naturalist, biologist and archaeologist. Lubbock collected archaeological and ethnographic objects from all over the world. He acquired most of his objects from antiquities dealers, friends and colonial networks.

skull cupHe travelled widely within Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, but never got as far as Australia, Fiji or the Americas. 619 of the objects in his collection were actually bought in London.

The entry in Lubbock’s ‘Catalogue of my Collection’ describes this skull as:

“Skull used as drinking cup. Sold with Australian & New Zealand objects at the Marlborough House, Exeter, sale; and said to have been the property of one of Cap. Cooke’s officers. Burk says this skull is not Australian, but he thinks Polynesian.”