Hardly any other site in the world has yielded more aesthetically pleasing ammonites than the Courcelles clay pit near Troyes, a good 100 km south-east of Paris. However, there is also a certain tragedy associated with this site.

The Courcelles clay pit was already in operation in the 19th century and its finds attracted scientists from all over France. However, the ammonites lie firmly caked in often head-sized, gray limestone nodules. These nodules were found in large quantities when the mine was in operation. However, the preparation of the enclosed ammonites was only possible with a fine needle and was extremely time-consuming – and even then not always entirely satisfactory. In short: there were plenty of ammonites, but it was almost impossible to prepare them. Mining ceased in 1984 and after a few years the bottom of the pit sank beneath the surface of an expanding lake. In the meantime, a new method of preparation was discovered by fossil collectors: the use of ultra-fine sandblasting equipment, using soft, fine iron powder rather than hard sand as the abrasive. Suddenly, the ammonites from Courcelles could be removed from the rock in a much shorter time and down to the finest details – but now there were hardly any unprepared specimens and new finds were no longer possible.

The specimens exhibited here come from the unprepared stock of a now very elderly French collector who – thank God – had stored the nodules untouched in his cellar for decades and recently gave them to us for the now perfected preparation. A real stroke of luck!