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Art in Shell

of the Ancient Americans

William Henry Holmes  - 1881

 Gustav's Library Vintage Reprint

From the Fifteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Holmes presents a thorough study of the shell artifacts of the United States.

     Man in his most primitive condition must have resorted to the seashore for the food which it affords. Weapons or other appliances were not necessary in the capture of mollusks; a stone to break the shell, or one of the massive valves of the shells themselves, sufficed for all purposes.
The shells of mollusks probably came into use as utensils at a very early date, and mutually with products of the vegetable world afforded natural vessels for food and water.
For a long period the idea of modifying the form to increase the convenience may not have been suggested and the natural shells were used for whatever purpose they were best fitted. In time, however, by accidental suggestions it would be found that modifications would enhance their usefulness, and the breaking away of useless parts and the sharpening of edges and points would be resorted to. Farther on, as it became necessary to carry them from point to point, changes would be made for convenience of transportation. Perforations which occur naturally in some species of shell, would be produced artificially, and the shells would be strung on vines or cords and suspended about the neck; in this way, in time, may have originated the custom of wearing pendants for personal ornament. Following this would be the transportation of such articles to distant places by wandering tribes, exchanges would take place with other tribes, and finally a trade would be developed and a future commerce of nations be inaugurated...The farther these useful articles were carried from the source of supply the greater the value that would attach to them, and far inland the shell of the sea might easily become an object of unusual consideration. Having an origin more or less shrouded in mystery, it would in time become doubly dear to the heart of the superstitious savage, perhaps an object of actual veneration, or at least one of such high esteem that it would be treasured by the living and buried with the dead.

This 7-1/2" x 10-1/2", soft cover, facsimile reprint with the 56 full-page plates makes for 229 pages in all.  $16.95


Bird Gorget Shell Disk

Shell Disk

Famous Fighting Figures Gorget
  Tennessee Spider Gorget Shell Woodpecker  

Sample  Plates - click on image to enlarge