Fun With Limpets!

By Bernie Bell

This really is just pretty much me blathering, but….it’s a thought….playing with ideas

I have a row of limpet shells on my desk…..

As my Broadband connection is wondrous slow, I while away the time waiting for things to happen by playing with my limpets – I shunt them back and forward like a train, move them around each other in a dance, stack them, balance them etc. etc.

It then occurred to me that maybe the Neolithic/Bronze Age/Iron Age children played with limpet shells too? 

Though there are many archaeological excavations in Orkney – we don’t see many objects turning up which could be considered to be toys. Maybe they were made of wood and rotted away?  I suspect the Westray Wifie ……

…….of being a toy – but those as knows might dispute that.

And maybe the ‘Nine Little Figurines’ found in Finstown???  Maybe a bit less likely – but – maybe???…..…. 

A dearth of toys at archaeology digs – but all cultures, all peoples, all over the world have toys.

Children make toys for themselves from unlikely things – bits of rubbish become horses, dollies, carts.  They are endlessly inventive as children, and grown-ups, are who don’t have much in the way of material possessions.

Even when lack of material wealth isn’t relevant, the expensive Christmas present is often ignored while the child plays with the box it arrived in – turning it into a castle.

So – limpet shells as toys?  Why not?  I get entertainment out of them. Though I am easy pleased.

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8 replies »

  1. Hi Bernie
    Enjoyed this piece! Have you read Robert Rendall’s recollection of shell games in the Orkney Shore? Sublime!

  2. Thank you Eoin!

    I found this……

    …and can imagine the children of times past – either near or far – playing the games – using stones to make walls and ‘play at farms’ as we used to as children. I’m not sure if children do so now – I get the impression it’s mostly dinosaurs these days – fair enough.

    And…and…and…the spiral shell drawing at the end by Robert Rendall…….I have a liking for spirals….….


    • RR was very influenced by D’arcy Wentworth Thompson’s ideas on pattern and form;I think they may have corresponded or met when Wentworth Thomson called in at Kirkwall.

      • Howie (Firth) tells me…..

        “Robert Rendall’s book Orkney Shore is beautiful, with a wonderful mixture of information and stories and insights, and in one chapter he describes some of the ideas about mathematical patterns in shells that are in D’Arcy Thompson’s book On Growth and Form.”

        Another one to read!

    • “Growth and Form” in its original format is pretty daunting but I think the one volume synopsis is still in print and worth looking at. Orkney Library may have a copy.

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