Shell Beads

Oldest Known beads made out of shells 82,000 years ago
Site: Grotte des Pigeons, Taforalt, Morocco photo curtsy of Smithsonian Website

October is the month steeped in ancient traditions, and to celebrate why not delve int an scientific bead set that sparks interest and mystery even today? What beads are we talking about? Shells.

Shells!? Are you guys crazy? Actually, we’re not. Believe it or not the world’s oldest beads found were shells that were drilled and then strung. Let’s face it, how many of us have taken a trip along the beach or a lake and come across some interesting shells and picked them up and now they’re sitting in a bag on the shelf or on a box waiting for your inspiration to hit. Well now you can do what cultures across eons have done. String them up and wear the proudly.

The oldest found shell beads are currently held on a display at the Smithsonian. According to the website they are 82,000 years old!

According to the Smithsonian site, they travelled over 40 Km from the Mediterranean to get to where they were found. Shells then became part of many societies, not only for decoration, but also for currency.


Native Americans used Wampum as a for of currency with the first settlers and each other. Formed from Quahog shells, they were used to trade for furs and other necessities.

Unfortunately like most money was used in this day and age; they could also be used for unkind purposes. Much like today they were also used in scams and unfair trading deals.

For mor information you can check out this site and many more like it: Wampum

A white and Purple shells used to Make Wampum either for decoration or for currency.

Cowrie Shells

One of the most prolific and easily identifiable shells throughout history and even today is the Cowrie Shell.

We see them strung up for sale not only as strings we can purchase, but also as necklaces and other crafted items. Did you know there’s much more to them than as pretty decoration though?

However, money and wealth weren’t the only thing they were used for. They were used for rituals as well. Some cultures used them in healing and fertility rites as they the white colour denoted purity and the curls represented the curves of the female form.

They started to their use as money when trading routes and agreements opened up with India. Why may you ask? Because unlike North America the cowrie shell was quite common, and the metal was more durable and easily kept and traded over long distances.

Still to this day, shells hold sway over us. Maybe not as money, but as decoration and crafts and we still find beauty and value in them.

A picture of a Cowrie Shell

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