Monday, 8 October 2012

She sells sea shells on the sea shore, part 1

Sanibel Island, USA where the unique angle of the island catches incredible amounts of sea shells on the
sea shore and where I have spent hours obsessively picking up shells to collect with the intention to make "something " from them.
I was wondering, what was the age of oldest jewellery discovered. Thinking it would be made from a metal, I was surprised to see they are beads made from shells. The shells come from a marine mollusc known as Nassarius, which is a type of whelk. Chemical and elemental analysis of sediments stuck to one of the shells showed that it came from ground layers dated to 100,000 years ago, Middle Stone Age. The pea-sized shells all have similar holes which would have allowed them to be strung together into a necklace or bracelet. Researchers believe they were probably selected for their size and deliberately perforated with a sharp flint tool.
The ancient shell beads.

Two of the ancient beads come from Skhul Cave on the slopes of Mount Carmel in Israel. The other comes from the site of Oued Djebbana in Algeria. Where they were discovered was never that close to the sea this means they were transported by people to these locations.
Whether they were worn for decoration, to symbolise status or to ward off evil; we can only speculate.
Here in the Technological Age, 100,000 years later, I have my own necklace made from Nassarius, I wear it purely for decoration although if it does ward off the evil too, thats fine by me.
A testimony of the enduring charm of jewellery - however simple.
My whelk necklace. 
"It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire"  Robert Louis Stevenson - 1850

In the past shells were used as money. They were particularly useful because they could be strung in long strips of proportionate value or used to provide a single unit value in  exchange. Relative scarcity of the type of shell used or the way the shell was fashioned determined its value. Cowrie shells were the most common shell money.
Go to this the British Museum page to read more.

Even today there are avid dealers of shells who are are using shells as a way of accumulating wealth. Take a look at this young entrepreneur.

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