Lucky Stones: Otoliths are Awesome

I was scouring the beach for sea glass when two women walked by.

“Not many lucky stones today,” the taller one said to me.

Hmmm. What are lucky stones, I wondered? The women were long gone before I could ask them.

When I got home I headed online to do some research. And I found bones.

The lucky stones I’m sure the two women were referring to that day over a year ago are otoliths, or ear bones from sheepshead fish. They are found along the shores of Lake Erie.

Apparently, indigenous people used them as amulets and fishermen put them in their pockets for good luck.

Whether you are superstitious or not, there’s no denying that lucky stones or “ear stones” truly are remarkable. In fact there are scientists who devote their entire working lives to studying them.

Otoliths provide a wealth of scientific data.  In fact, they are referred to as the “black box” or ‘flight recorder” of a fish. Not only does an otolith tell a fish’s age (each year is represented by a ring, just like a tree), but also very detailed information about the fish’s health, habitat and diet. As D. Graham Burnett writes in Cabinet Magazine: (do check out the rest of this excellent article on otoliths)

… about thirty years ago a curious geologist, tinkering with an otolith (it was a rock, after all), made the truly shocking discovery that those annual layers can be further resolved, microscopically, down to daily layers, layers that contain, in their chemical composition and size, information about the temperature and the salinity of the water through which the fish moved, the food that it ate, and various environmental contaminants it encountered. The result is a stratigraphy unprecedented in the organic world: the diligent student can peruse the otolith of a long-lived deep sea fish, and reconstruct not merely its age, but (and I am barely exaggerating) what it had for breakfast on 6 March 1964, or roughly where it was on the occasion of a particular nuclear test.

Interestingly, each stone has either an “L” shape or a “J” (which stands for “Love and Joy”, according to some collectors.) The “L” shaped bones are from the right side of the fish, while the “J” is from the left side.

Some collectors make jewelry out of Lucky Stones. Alison over at Lucky Stone Jewelry is a cancer survivor – and collecting and making jewelry from lucky stones is part of the healing process for her. Check out her story and her wonderful creations here.

I had a nice collection of lucky stones – until this afternoon, when my collection blew into the wooden cracks of my front porch while I was trying to photograph them. (The photos above were snapped before the wind took them.) I have two left.

Yet another excuse to hit the beach this weekend.


18 Comments so far
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Your photos are truly a work of art that now will serve as your legacy to your wonder and amazement of small things of nature. Thank YOU!

Thanks so much for the kind words Nancy!

[…] is a photo of the ‘gem’ quality pieces: (It also was a good day for otoliths. We found four. A heart stone […]

Hi! I am thrilled to read your article. I have been collecting Lucky Stones for over 45 yrs and I have never known anyone who knew anything about them other than the people I have shown. I knew where they came from, but didn’t know the history behind them. So interesting! Isn’t nature fascinating? I was just at Point Pelee on Saturday for a Thanksgiving celebration and found 2 huge Lucky Stones – one the size of a quarter and the other is almost as big as a loonie – I was so excited! You just don’t find them that big anymore! Thank you!

where is the best place to find these things you call lucky stones?

WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO FINDE THESE GEMS?

Norma, I found most of mine on the shores of Lake Erie at Seacliff Beach in Leamington, Ontario.

My friend and I went to Port Glasgow for a beautiful day on the beach searching for these. It was not until after lunch that we found our first one. Once we found it, we knew what we were looking for and we were HOOKED!! By 5:00, we each had about 15 or 20 of them, some the size of a penny or smaller. You have to look for them where the rocks wash in, not on a sandy beach. Wear flip flops, you are walking on rocks. We can’t wait to go hunting for these again!!

My mother found one of these Lucky Stones in Port Clinton Ohio yesterday. She was told about these stones from one lady on the beach, so my mom started looking and finally found one after spending hours searching!

Hi Greta: You are right, they are not plentiful. My friends and I returned to Port Glasgow, ON for a day at the beach. If we come away with 5 or 10 each, we are happy. The beach is brown and these stones shine like white teeth, so are easy to spot when they are wet. We did learn it is better to go early in the morning when the water is calm, as opposed to the afternoon when the water level rises and the water is rough. Good luck in your search.

No doubt it is a wonderful stone. In ancient time was kown as healing stone and now as poweful research tool for almost evey scientist. God has given us magic wond known as otolith.
I am doing research in otolith. I am based in Sultanate of Oman. Marine Science and fisheries center. Ministry of agriculture and fisheries, Muscat, Oman

I have been collecting Lucky Stones for over 25yrs. An old man, George, God rest his soul taught me and my 4 kids about them. I go for my Lucky Stone walk every single time I’m on the beach at Marblehead. It is always filled with past memories of each one of my kids finding one, then running up to me and their voices still do ring in my hearts-mind saying..’found one’, then giving me a kiss on my cheek and I would in turn do the same as well. I call it relaxing therapy, the more I had on my mind..the less I found, the less I had on my mind..the more I found. I have jars of them and have enjoyed sharing what they are with others on the beach. If you are a beachcomber yourself, then you know it becomes a skill overtime, because they also look like pieces of marble and abalone shells. From rice size to quarter size, from dark brown to clean white, I never tire of them. They are ‘lucky’ to me because of the endless, eternal memories they’ve made and have yet to make.

It is a gorgeous Thanksgiving weekend in Cananda. 22 degrees C. I just wanted to drive to the beach one more time this summer. I spent 4 hours on the beach in Port Glasgow and found 33 of them. It was a great day!! Definitely will visit the Lake again next summer ☺

I have been searching for these lucky stones since I was a kid 50 years ago…and finding beach glass at the same time is a treat….we are located in Kingsville, Ontario but grew up around Wheatley, Ont. I have found one red beach glass my whole life…romantically consider it from the port light of a ship wreck.

I have been collecting lucky stones now for about 48 years now. I grew up in Stoney Point and found all of them from Lake StClair. Many fond memories of these stones some from beach combing some from fishing and catching them. Young sheepshead are great for making fish chowder as they are the only fish I know of that don’t flake apart when cooked. Stubby from Belle River gave me a recipe for poor mans lobster for the same reason. They stay in chunk form once cooked.

I have collecting them for several years with a friend of mine we now have over 1000. Was wondering if anyone has more?

I have been collecting for around 14 years and I have in excess of 6000.

Hi Doug:
Are you on the Canadian side, or the U.S. side of Lake Erie?

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