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Orthoceras are the fossilized remains of an extinct marine animal of Cephalopod family. They are ancestors to the modern-day squid and octopus and are dated to the Devonian Period about 500 million years ago. They range in length from a few inches to over six feet. They could swim as well as crawl on the ocean floor. By filling the chambers of their shells with air they could float through the seas propelling themselves by squirting jets of water. They had tentacles and ink sacs much like the squid of today. After they died, their shells accumulated on the sea floor where they were buried by sediments, and over the ages turned to stone. These Orthoceras fossils have been dug out of the Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco, at the northern fringe of the Sahara Desert, which was once under the sea.
Orthoceras were among the most advanced of the invertebrates, no backbone, having a sophisticated nervous system, eyes, and jaws. The word Orthoceras means “straight horn” and refers to its shape. They are slender, elongate shells with the middle of the body chamber transversely constricted. All Orthoceras had chambers separated by walls called Septa. They also had a tube that runs down the center of the shell called a siphuncle. It is believed that this tube was used to carry gas into the chambers to control the buoyancy of the shell.
Orthoceras fossils are most often found on a black background with white and silver flecks. The surface is ornamented by a network of fine lirae. When polished they can look quite striking. The lines and colors are natural, they have been cleaned and highly polished.