The Builders of the Oceans – Part II: Corals from the Past to the Present (The Stone from the Sea)

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At any scale, corals are live buildings. Their carbonate skeletons constitute three-dimensional frameworks allowing the delicate coral polyp to emerge from the sea bottom and populate vast areas of the ocean. The role that corals play in the oceans defies any attempt at simplification since it transcends the life span of the small polyp, geological time, and ecological space. Long after the polyps are gone, coral skeletons continue to play an important ecological role by hosting assemblages of disparate species utilizing the calcareous remains. However, the skeleton is one of the reasons coral has a privileged position in human culture. Coral has been regarded as mystic object and unique material of lapidary medical and apotropaic properties, this in great part due to the architecture and arrangement of the skeleton, growth morphologies, and color. Human history has been carved in chalk-white coral tombstones, on effigies, and on painted coral skeletons. Coral eyes of basaltic sentinels on Easter Island contemplate a plethora of coral artifacts scattered along the footpath of mankind: mortuary offerings, statues of pagan goddesses, helmets of Celtic warriors, military fortifications, and insular mosques shared the dream of the stone, when life seemed to depart from the mineral limbo, in the figure of the humble coral polyp. This chapter is the continuation of a personal journey into the coral forest of the world’s oceans (see chapter “The Builders of the Oceans – Part I: Coral Architecture from the Tropics to the Poles, from the Shallow to the Deep”). A selection of examples of human interactions with the “stone from the sea” will illustrate this complex and fascinating relationship with coral.


Coral Amulet Apotropaic medicine History Folklore Mythology Fossil Archaeology Myth Superstition 



Our thanks to Adriana Bruggeman, Piero d’Altan, Corrado Camera for English translations of various texts in Old Dutch, Italian, and Latin.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Energy, Environment and Water Research Center of The Cyprus Institute (CyI)NicosiaCyprus
  2. 2.Enalia Physis Environmental Research CentreNicosiaCyprus
  3. 3.Instituto Español de OceanografíaCentro Oceanográfico de BalearesPalma de MallorcaSpain

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