Shell jewelry

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Shell jewelry for sale on a beach in Vietnam, 1990 Jewelry made of shells.jpg
Shell jewelry for sale on a beach in Vietnam, 1990
Necklaces made in Raratonga, Cook Islands Shell necklaces (Cook Islands).jpg
Necklaces made in Raratonga, Cook Islands
A Stone Age burial in Brittany dating from 5000-7000 BC shows the skeletons of two women who were buried wearing necklaces made of numerous shells of the sea snail Trivia. Sepulture de Teviec (5).jpg
A Stone Age burial in Brittany dating from 5000-7000 BC shows the skeletons of two women who were buried wearing necklaces made of numerous shells of the sea snail Trivia .

Shell jewelry is jewelry that is primarily made from seashells, the shells of marine mollusks. Shell jewelry is a type of shellcraft. One very common form of shell jewelry is necklaces that are composed of large numbers of beads, where each individual bead is the whole (but often drilled) shell of a small sea snail. Numerous other varieties of shell jewelry are made, including bracelets and earrings.


As well as sea snail shells, shell jewelry also sometimes uses the shells of clams (bivalves) and tusk shells (scaphopods). Occasionally shell jewelry is made from the shells of non-marine mollusks such as the shells of land snails , or the shells of freshwater mollusks. Not all shell jewelry is made from whole shells; some kinds are made from parts of shells, including the shell layer known as mother of pearl or nacre, and the "trapdoor" or operculum which is part of some sea snails.

In recent times, inexpensive shell jewelry is often found at tropical beach destinations, where it is offered to tourists as informal wear, or as a souvenir. However, shell jewelry has a very ancient past, and is of great importance in archeology and anthropology. In fact, shell beads are the oldest form of jewelry known, dating back over 100,000 years.

In prehistory

The oldest known jewelry in the world consists of two perforated beads made from shells of the sea snail Nassarius gibbosulus . These beads were discovered at Skhul in Israel, and were recently dated to between 100,000 and 135,000 years ago. [1] [2] Similar ornaments (some made from shells of Nassarius kraussianus and the bittersweet clam Glycymeris nummaria as well as from Nassarius gibbosulus) have been discovered at a number of Middle Paleolithic sites, and are considered a key piece of evidence for the theory that early anatomically modern humans in Africa and the Levant were more culturally sophisticated than had previously been thought. [3] [4] [5] In some cases shells had been transported a considerable distance from the species' natural habitat. One example is the site of Oued Djebbana in Algeria, for example, where an N. gibbosulus bead was found; at the time the shell was used there, this site was at least 190 km away from the sea. [2]

Shell ornaments were very common during the Upper Paleolithic, from 50–40,000 years ago onwards, when they spread with modern humans to Europe and Asia. They generally take the form of perforated shells (as well as other hard organic material such as tooth, bone, antler and mammoth ivory) which are thought to have been suspended and used as jewelry. The most commonly found species are Homalopoma sanguineum , Littorina obtusata , Cyclope species, Nassarius mutabilis and Nassarius gibbosulus. Fossil shells were used alongside those of contemporary species. Some shells were stained with ochre. In Europe, the shells of both Atlantic and Mediterranean species were used, again circulating over distances of hundreds of kilometers. [6] During the neolithic period shell necklaces were made with the shells of 3 genera Spondylus, Glycymeris and Charonia. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

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A bead is a small, decorative object that is formed in a variety of shapes and sizes of a material such as stone, bone, shell, glass, plastic, wood, or pearl and with a small hole for threading or stringing. Beads range in size from under 1 millimetre (0.039 in) to over 1 centimetre (0.39 in) in diameter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Seashell</span> Hard, protective outer layers created by an animal that lives in the sea

A seashell or sea shell, also known simply as a shell, is a hard, protective outer layer usually created by an animal or organism that lives in the sea. The shell is part of the body of the animal. Empty seashells are often found washed up on beaches by beachcombers. The shells are empty because the animal has died and the soft parts have decomposed or been eaten by another animal.

<i>Spondylus</i> Genus of molluscs

Spondylus is a genus of bivalve molluscs, the only genus in the family Spondylidae. They are known in English as spiny oysters or thorny oysters.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Behavioral modernity</span> Transition of human species to anthropologically modern behavior

Behavioral modernity is a suite of behavioral and cognitive traits that distinguishes current Homo sapiens from other anatomically modern humans, hominins, and primates. Most scholars agree that modern human behavior can be characterized by abstract thinking, planning depth, symbolic behavior, music and dance, exploitation of large game, and blade technology, among others. Underlying these behaviors and technological innovations are cognitive and cultural foundations that have been documented experimentally and ethnographically by evolutionary and cultural anthropologists. These human universal patterns include cumulative cultural adaptation, social norms, language, and extensive help and cooperation beyond close kin.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">African archaeology</span> Archaeology conducted in Africa

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aterian</span>

The Aterian is a Middle Stone Age stone tool industry centered in North Africa, from Mauritania to Egypt, but also possibly found in Oman and the Thar Desert. The earliest Aterian dates to c. 150,000 years ago, at the site of Ifri n'Ammar in Morocco. However, most of the early dates cluster around the beginning of the Last Interglacial, around 150,000 to 130,000 years ago, when the environment of North Africa began to ameliorate. The Aterian disappeared around 20,000 years ago.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blombos Cave</span> Archaeological site in Western Cape, South Africa

Blombos Cave is an archaeological site located in Blombos Private Nature Reserve, about 300 km east of Cape Town on the Southern Cape coastline, South Africa. The cave contains Middle Stone Age (MSA) deposits currently dated at between c. 100,000 and 70,000 years Before Present (BP), and a Late Stone Age sequence dated at between 2000 and 300 years BP. The cave site was first excavated in 1991 and field work has been conducted there on a regular basis since 1997, and is ongoing.

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<i>Nassarius</i> Genus of gastropods

Nassarius, common name nassa mud snails (USA) or dog whelks (UK), is a genus of minute to medium-sized sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs in the family Nassariidae. They are scavengers.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Art of the Middle Paleolithic</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sibudu Cave</span> Rock shelter with earliest examples of modern human technology in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Sibudu Cave is a rock shelter in a sandstone cliff in northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is an important Middle Stone Age site occupied, with some gaps, from 77000 years ago to 38000 years ago.

<i>Tritia gibbosula</i> Species of gastropod

Tritia gibbosula, common name the swollen nassa, is a species of sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusc in the family Nassariidae, the Nassa mud snails or dog whelks.

<i>Phrontis vibex</i> Species of gastropod

Phrontis vibex, common name the bruised nassa, is a species of sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Nassariidae, the Nassa mud snails or dog whelks.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Skhul and Qafzeh hominins</span> Hominin fossils

The Skhul/Qafzeh hominins or Qafzeh–Skhul early modern humans are hominin fossils discovered in Es-Skhul and Qafzeh caves in Israel. They are today classified as Homo sapiens, among the earliest of their species in Eurasia. Skhul Cave is on the slopes of Mount Carmel; Qafzeh Cave is a rockshelter near Nazareth in Lower Galilee.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Taforalt</span> Cave and archaeological site in Morocco

Taforalt or Grotte des Pigeons is a cave in the province of Berkane, Béni Iznasen region, Morocco, possibly the oldest cemetery in North Africa. It contained at least 34 Iberomaurusian adolescent and adult human skeletons, as well as younger ones, from the Upper Palaeolithic between 15,100 and 14,000 calendar years ago. There is archaeological evidence for Iberomaurusian occupation at the site between 23,200 and 12,600 calendar years ago, as well as evidence for Aterian occupation as old as 85,000 years.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grotta del Cavallo</span> Cave and archaeological site in Italy

The Grotta del Cavallo or Cavallo Cave is a limestone cave in the region of Apulia, Southern Italy, near Nardò 90 km (55.92 mi) south of Taranto. The cave is about 15 m (49 ft) above present sea level. It has a rounded entrance, 5 m (16.40 ft) wide and 2.5 m (8.20 ft) high opening toward the sea. The cave was rediscovered in 1960 and two waves of excavations ensued. The first wave spanning from 1963 to 1966 and the second from 1986 to 2008. The cave was disturbed by looters during the period between the two waves of excavations, damaging the layers corresponding to the Upper Palaeolithic; because of this, the cave entrance is covered by a gate and is closed to the public.

Cueva Antón is a paleoanthropological and archeological site in the Region of Murcia of southeast Spain. The cave is located about 60 kilometers from the Mediterranean port city of Cartagena inland in the territory of the municipality of Mula. It was eroded by the Río Mula and served as a cave in the Middle Palaeolithic inhabited by Neanderthals. The cave became internationally known in 2010, after a shell at least 43,000 years old with adhering orange pigment was discovered there. The pigment found was interpreted as evidence that the shell was used "in an aesthetic and probably symbolic" way. The find from the Cueva Antón was published together with similar finds from the Cave of Los Aviones; they were named as the first such Neanderthal jewelry found in Europe. The colonization of the Iberian Peninsula by modern man took place only several thousand years after the creation of the jewelry from the Cueva Antón. This site is the last known place where Neanderthal people resided.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Francesco d'Errico</span> (b.1957) Italian archaeologist

Francesco d'Errico is an archaeologist who works as CNRS Director of Research at the University of Bordeaux in France and Professor at the Centre for Early Sapiens Behaviour, University of Bergen. In 2014 he was awarded the CNRS silver medal. In 2015 Giorgio Napolitano, president of Italy, presented him with the Fabio-Frassetto prize from the Accademia dei Lincei.


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