There is a saying in English that says that ‘one cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach’. Maybe not all the beautiful shells, but quite a lot. People for more than 135.000 years collect shells and turn them into jewelry. A great story. And you can read more of it in this blog post.
What product can claim it is trendy for at least 100.000 years?
Well, shell jewelry is. In the region near the beaches, shells are an important way to decorate one’s body. The shells you can find are used to make shell necklaces, bracelets or earrings. Not only to make yourself more beautiful but also to let another know who you are and what you think.
More fanatic people dive for shells and those beauties are of course more expensive, rarer than the shells you find on the beach. The people with influence (and more ways to get them p,e. exchanging products) wear those rare shells as a symbol of their status and power.
And when you like shells and want them very very badly, there is always a way to get them by trade, exchanging products or travel and get them yourself. That makes the shell jewelry expensive. Also because shells are hard to work on. Making wholes to bead the shells on a string have a high risk of breaking the shells altogether.
All these difficulties you have to overcome to obtain a beautiful shell jewel were in 100.000+ years never a reason to refrain from wearing and trying to get that beautiful shell jewelry.
Shell jewelry is very old, a great story
Fashionistas say that ‘you are what you wear’. And what you wear is a matter of decoration for self-expression. But when did humans start doing that?
Scientists had their dogma’s and stated that this decoration started about 25.000 years ago. But the finds of two shell beads in Israel and one in Algeria turned everything they assumed upside down.
In 2004 archeologists find some 75.000-year-old snail beads in South Africa. And the question comes up: ‘when did humans started to decorate themselves for self-expression and are the shells the first material they used for this?’
In the whole world, scientists start to search in musea and collections to find more shell beads. And try to find out from what date their finds are. They really want to know when the Ancient Times bling bling started.
Old, older, oldest.
Eureka! They found 3 shells with the same puncture holes like the shell beads that were found in South Africa. In the Natural History Museum in London, two snail shell beads were found. They originated from an excavation of a burial site in Israel (1930s). The third bead turned up in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris. That shell bead was found about 190 km ( more than 100 miles) from the coast in the middle of a desert in Algeria.
The shell beads from Israel are between 100.000 and 135.000 years old and the bead from Algeria is between 35.000 and 90.000 years old. People are traveling and when there is no food in one place they go to another. People from Africa and the Middle East find a new habitat in Europe and Asia and they bring their belongings, like shell jewelry and shell beads with them. They are found on burial places in Europa and seem more than 40.000 years old.
Shell jewelry is ‘hot’ in the whole world.
When you are near a beach resort, you will find shops selling shell jewelry. In Europe, the shells are different (and have mostly a white color) than in Oceania or other places. At the moment those cheap shell necklaces last only for the season, but it’s still hard to resist buying them. When the shell jewelry is made of ‘ordinary’ shells, it’s not a problem. But in the Netherlands, you are not allowed to import rare shells (for ecological reasons).
In the Pacific, they find a lot of abalone shells and people normally don’t use the whole shell to make shell beads, but the use parts of the rather large shell. Those parts are polished and jewelry designers make beads and jewelry out of them. But you can also take a wooden bead and glue abalone pieces on them.
Buying your bride with a kina shell
Traveling around in Papua New Guinea quite a few years ago I saw people wearing a rather large shell as a necklace. The shell is called a kina.
That kina shell is so important for the culture (and the self-expression) of the people in Papua New Guinea that they call their money ‘the kina’. Actually, for a long time, the kina was their money. With a large and beautiful kina shell, you could by your bride! And even today, the kina shell is used for ceremonial payments.
Shell jewelry made from an egg!
Shell jewelry can be made of shells found in the sea or along the beach. Or from snails, but also from ostrich eggs. Especially in Africa, this type of jewelry is popular (already for ages and ages).
In Southern Africa, the ostrich shell is the oldest form of material to make jewelry. It’s durable, rather easy to work with and it doesn’t break so easily as sea shells do. The shell is really white, which makes wearing this material popular. And the shape of the egg symbolizes female fertility.
Today shells are not considered as gemstones by jewelry designers. But to me, shells are real gems and I love to use them. Especially mother of pearl, abalone shells are my favorites. And lucky enough I bought one kina shell from my travel to Papua New Guinea. Still, plan to make a fabulous necklace wit hit. Ideas? Let me know on my mail email@example.com
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Hug, Florence from FlorenceJewelshop.