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Serpents eyes

Serpents' eyes

Miocene fossil teeth of another bony fish - 'Sargus', the white sea bream, and its relatives - were known as serpents' eyes in Malta. The palatal teeth of Sargus resemble Lepidotes teeth. They often have a pale yellow or orange-coloured centre called the acrodin cap, surrounded by a darker ring, coloured brown, giving them an eye-like appearance. Along with tonguestones (sharks' teeth), serpents' eyes were given as gifts in Malta during medieval times (Zammit-Maempel 1989). For instance, papal delegates to Malta were presented with gold-mounted serpents' eyes and fossil sharks' teeth to be used as protective amulets.

Their importance and value also extended to royalty - serpents' eyes were listed among the jewels owned by King Henry V of England (Thompson 1932).

The idea that Sargus teeth were the petrified eyes of serpents is connected with the story of St Paul.The snakes cursed by the shipwrecked apostle are said to have lost their eyes, which then became embedded in the island's rocks.

The use of serpents' eyes as a sympathetic medicine against snakebites involved either boiling the fossil fish teeth in water, or adding the teeth in powdered form to water or wine (Worm 1686).