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Seashells

Gila Zemmel

If you’re taking a trip to the seaside this summer, look out for some of these beautiful shells. All over the world, wherever shells are found, they are used in a variety of ways. Because of their beauty, they feature in artwork, are made into mosaics, decorate furniture, and have traditionally been made into all sorts of jewelry. Shells have been used as paint holders, chess pieces, bugles, and trumpets; as hand weapons, scrapers, and clasps; shell collecting is a popular hobby worldwide.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Shells used to be used instead of money almost all over the globe. The shell most used was the money cowry (Cypraea moneta) found in the Indian Ocean and along the African coast. Shells make good money since they are durable, easy to transport, and are difficult to replicate and forge. In China, cowries were such an important part of currency that all Chinese characters relating to money incorporate the character for the cowry.

In the eighteenth century, the Dutch East India Company increased its revenues by trading cowries for spices, gems, and exotic animals, which it took back to Europe. Cowries were used in the slave trade in Africa and as currency in Australia and the South Pacific Islands. Some North American Indians strung hollow tusk shells onto threads, making currency that was valued by its length rather than quantity. In Papua New Guinea, this type of shell money is still used today, mainly for weddings. On the island of East New Britain, it is still used to pay local taxes!

 

 

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