Mad in Pursuit Notebook

spondylus beads, Peru

Prehispanic Spondylus Shell Beads: Perú, Ecuador, Panamá

STORY. Shells of spondylus oysters (photo below [1]) were popular from the moment the first diver emerged from the Pacific Ocean with one in hand, 3000 years ago. They were harvested 30 to 60 feet deep, off the coast of Ecuador, and, as "daughters of the sea," became a valuable commodity on the ancient trade routes into the Andes Mountains and north into central America. The oyster itself is toxic out of season, but its shell was prized more highly than gold or silver. It was associated with fertility and abundance and used in religious rituals. Beads could be easily carved, strung, and worn as a talisman or exchanged for goods.

spondylus beads, Peru

Above, lower left: 2 strands of shell beads from the Vicús culture, Peru, 200 B.C.E - 600 C.E [#25] Purchased by sbp at a U.S. antique shop, 1992.

Above, right: 3 strands (incl. one with a hollow silver hemisphere) from the Chimú culture, Peru, 900 - 1470 C.E. [#42, 298, 1383] Purchased by jz in Lima, Peru, during a professional trip, 1967.

spondylus beads, Ecuador

Above: Spondylus shell, with modern silver. Ecuador, prehispanic [#299]. Purchased by sbp in Quito, Ecuador, 2001.


spondylus and gold beads, Panama

Above: Spondylus beads, with ancient gold (note that clay cores of gold beads disintegrated, leaving only a thin shell), Panamá, Veraguás culture, 700 - 1530 C.E. [#114] Purchased by jz in Panama, during his "Operation Swamp Fox II" military duty, early 1960s.


[1] Spondylus shell photo: pondylus princeps from the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. Photo by Kevin Walsh; licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Reference: Spondylus: The Precolumbian Use of the Thorny Oyster

Reference: Thorny Oysters: The Daughters of the Sea

19 Jan 2018


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