Medieval clam

In 2006 scientists in Iceland caught a clam that was born eight years after Christopher Columbus sailed to America.

Ocean quahog
Manfred Heyde / CC BY-SA

Ocean quahog clams live in the north Atlantic Ocean. The clams towards the south of their habitat range don’t live very long: 30 years, maybe. But the clams up north near Iceland, where it is cold and slow, live a long time. 

How do we know? Well, clams – like trees – have annual growth rings. So you can count the rings and calculate pretty precisely just how old a clam is. British scientists dredged up an ocean quahog clam in 2006, and in 2007 they cracked it open and counted the rings. Its age was later confirmed through carbon-dating. The clam, it turns out, was the oldest animal on the planet – at least, the oldest individual animal on the planet that we know about. 

The scientists named that clam Hafrún, but journalists dubbed it Ming because it was alive around the time of the Ming Dynasty in China. Guess which name stuck? Ming would have been born in 1499 CE, right at the end of the Middle Ages. Other things happening in Europe around this time: 

  • 1492 CE: Christopher Columbus sails off for America and spots a UFO
  • 1494 CE: The first written record is made of Scotch Whisky
  • 1503 CE: Leonardo Da Vinci starts painting the Mona Lisa
  • 1517 CE: The Protestant Reformation begins

The image at the top of this post isn’t of Ming, because there aren’t any free images of the clam large enough. But this is the actual clam in question:

Alan D Wanamaker Jr1, Jan Heinemeier • James D Scourse • Christopher A Richardson1 • Paul G Butler • Jón Eiríksson • Karen Luise Knudsen / CC BY

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