People say that its urine hardens into a precious stone... That the lynxes… bury as much of the excreted liquid in sand as they can, from a sort of natural jealousy lest such excretion should be brought to human use.
- The Etymologies of Isidore of Seville, 7th century

What are the myths linked to Lynx stones?

Lynx stones were considered by the Ancient Greeks to be the urine of the European lynx which solidified into precious stone. These stones were highly prized by humans, but they were not always easy to find because the lynx would bury them from sight. 

In 13th-century England lynx stones were used as a remedy against bladder stones, mixed with herbal ingredients and wine. 

A lynx climbing up a tree. Etching [by J.E. Ridinger] CC BY 4.0 Wellcome Library, London

Myths and Medicine

The use of fossils in medicine can be traced back more than 3,000 years to Egypt, China and India. The mysterious origin of fossils led some ancient scholars to believe that they had extraordinary medicinal properties. This belief became more common and widespread in Europe in the Middle Ages. Fossil medicines were believed to work for a wide range of ailments. Sometimes the same fossil was used for very different illnesses. The principle behind the use of a particular fossil for a particular ailment was founded by the belief that ‘like cures like’. 

What are these fossils?

Lynx stones have been identified as amber, tourmaline, hyacinth or sapphire as well as belemnite fossils. Belemnites are fossilised hard part of an extinct squid-like animal that lived 250 to 66 million years ago, during the Triassic to the Cretaceous Periods. When burned, these fossils emit a smell similar to cat's urine, explaining their connection to the lynx myth. 

Lynx stones on display in Fossil Hunters at the National Museum of Scotland. 

Belemnites fossils fact file

Date

Cretaceous period

Scientific name

Belemnitella mucronata

Museum Reference

NMS G.2016.24.2

Header image: This Canadian lynx is on display in the natural world galleries at the National Museum of Scotland. 

Tags

Back to top