When I was a child growing up in Tennessee I often searched for fossils. One of the most common in that area was a brown disk-shaped object of varying size that usually had a hole in the middle. Sometimes, they would be stuck together in stacks.

In our childish un-PC consciousness, my friends and I referred to them by the name "Indian money." Where this name came from I'm not sure, but it's easy enough to guess given the facts. Clearly, whenever English speakers started to find these things (which could have been any time after about 1700, I suppose), they needed something to call them, since the fossils were so common. Since the only stone artifacts anyone ever finds here (you can find Civil War rifle balls and whatnot if you're determined) were left by Indians and since the fossils so strongly resembled coins, they must be Indian money. So that's what they were called.

In fact, Indian money is a Paleozoic echinoderm fossil known as a crinoid. From my admittedly limited understanding, the living animal would have vaguely resembled a flower in that it consisted of a sort of flowery-thing which I think (although I'm not sure; /msg if I'm wrong) is called a calyx. The fossils that are most common today are usually segments of the stem, although other parts of the animal are more rarely found. These animals are sometimes known as sea lillies, too. The coin-like appearance of the fossil is due to the segmented nature of the animal. Each segment was remarkably durable individually, which explains the way it managed to remain intact since the Lower Ordovician period. That's 510 million years, placing these well before any Indians, or indeed India.

Oh, and just so you know I didn't make it up for postcount++, here are some other web pages about it:
http://www.kgs.ukans.edu/Publications/ancient/f21_crin.html (an excellent resource on crinoids in general),
http://www.cumberlandadventures.com/cave/cane.html,
http://www.fossilweb.com/bbs/messages/106.html
http://www.nashvillefossils.com/nashville.html,
http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0001822.html

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.