The Armors Of Ummim

by  AE Reiff

At some point its symbols of identity were absorbed into the body. Possessing a shield today means owning an entire carapace. People collect tortoise shells for such patterns. The same types grow species of Indian corn and display blue and red kernals in their dining rooms, but have no use for tureens and pots.

The armor resembles knights, but only the chest plate. They had magical properties akin to the urim and thummim when it walked with giants on the earth, which supposes memories  were retained of its expulsion. Spirits with bodies, bodies with spirits, the upper classes still believe them. It was a shock to the establishment when first dug up and the shields displayed. It argued something had been missed.

If you’ve never bucked on a flak jacket when you want to take it off , which feels like a tourniquet, the security of this bulk changes when there’s a desire to go naked. Westerners wanted safety but the shield bound their life, which took a curious relief in remedy, if you’ve a liking for disparate facts. It grew a kidney as a third brain to alleviate the pressure. That and the ingestion of silicone reeds which provoked diuresis regulated the body in the plastron through cycles of dessication and uresis. This required a whole new way of life when they permanently removed the shell.  Living in utter nakedness was of course another problem.

Naked they chanted  their hymns before the fire in front of the standing shields. We’d not know any of this if not for the survival of bone from those undersides. These, heated and cracked by the Amerind in much the same fashion as the ancient Chinese oracle bones, reveal that in the ancient past it could also remove the shell.

Burrowing along waterways, it interpopulated its predacious colonies in sandpits where it loved to stretch in the sand and rub those reclusive parts with reeds. This first caused the diuretic property that is our concern, I mean the principle by which it escaped its own imprisonment.

There are three stages in this development. At one point in its evolution the  shell cracked. While ancient Chinese used a pin to create the oracle bone script, the westerner had an organic crackling of the shell interpreted as the same. The vagary of these oracles led it to prey upon other species, fragments of which serve as their oracle bones  today, an art form interpreted in the craquelure of the shell. These have a semantic import beyond decoration. Indeed it formed colonies of a higher level of culture and began to hunt others. This was due to its own predation.

A conflict in the archeology and anthropology found that these creatures survived even the late settling of the West they once ranged, moved back up in the mountains where it was apparent they were more intelligent than first thought. Archeology, anthropology, politics, and finally psychology became  legitimate inquiries. For all that these the shells were the best informant.

First, a shield is spherical and covers the midsection and chest. It attaches over the shoulders and down the back. In that sense it is a carapace. Once detached or detachable, over the course of  survival it maintained the shields under stress until they literally fused with the scute, the dermal bone beneath.

The shell of this scute has a thin ventral plastron whose epidermis is a leathery skin, but the scutes and dermal bones do not have the same composition, which explains the craquelure. Fine networks of cracks occur when the shell shrinks and becomes brittle. Craquelure also records the environmental conditions the shell experienced as an exoskeleton.

The jet black carapace matures to a deep amber under the extended prognathous jaw. Even if an insect derivative, the pantheon of diversity claims all phyla as relative. Genomes connect to the claw that protrudes from its helmet in stress.

This celebrated and imitated patina produces a pattern of hairlike cracks in the varnish of mature shells. These apparent floral patterns, whether from UV light, shrinkage or age, appear in the armors of the of the Smithsonian. An Acanthus baroque styling older than Rome marks early hand hammered hardware in its rosemaling. Whether the result of natural force, or manipulated at will, this craquelure throbs with wide sprouts or barbs. Fissures reverse to forks, especially when there are ribs in the pattern. Inscrutable crack formations of simple branching describe neural networks under black light. Dimpled fingerprints, fine cracks in the finish, cleavage, cupping, spirals and dimpling occur.

The aesthetic appeal of these chest plates is a major interest compared with ancient Greek Vase painting, even more  because it is the force of nature that so decorates it. To what degree that being cooperates individually in the making of these designs is debated. The relation of shield is personal and intimate, meant as a mask to frighten enemies and inspire the imagination of friends, so it is no extreme to say that it is its shield.

The shields together tell a communal story, decipherable as words and paragraphs out of their large storybook. Their wars and their gods are Norse in effect. If this seems foreign to designs produced by nature, let it be compared with the fossil record that tells a grand epic, even as geology shapes land. How these natural forces interact on the shields, making them figurative and narrative, is our study.

AE Reiff sculpts the mythical animal and plant here, conducts explorations of the Heart which you can sign up for here, and if that’s not enough the complete catalog is available on request.

Print Friendly