22 April 2009

Indian shell tools from Florida

If you are ever in the town of Safety Harbor west of Tampa, Florida, visit the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History. It is likely that there will be no other visitors and you will get personalized attention from the 2 friendly museum attendants. Although the museum consists only of 2 large rooms, you may end up spending a few hours going thru them.

One room displays artifacts about the city's past, including old photographs, typewriters, household tools, while the other room displays older artifacts from Florida's past, including items related to various Spanish explorers, American Indians and even fossils.

Among the items that attracted my attention were several sea shells recovered during excavations of local Indian sites. For example, these bivalve shells, probably arks (Arcidae), each had a hole thru its umbo. Were they used as pendants?


Here is a large gastropod shell that was cut open. Its label, "Chief's Cup", implies that it was used as a drinking vessel. According to another label, the cup was used for a "strong, black beverage made from the leaves [of a plant] from the holly family" during a type of council meeting called the "black tea ceremony".


And then there were these reconstructed "tools".


The accompanying labels says "One of the principal uses of the adz was in hollowing out dug-out canoes." I find it hard to believe that such a flimsy contraption could have been used to dig a canoe out of a tree trunk. I need a bit more supporting evidence before I can take that claim seriously. It seems to me that it would have been easier just to hold the shell, if it was indeed a tool, in one's hand to do the carving.


Part 2 of this series is here.


Snail said...

Looks like a bit of imagination being used there, but I dunno.

IIRC, the Museum of Victoria in Melbourne has a rather splendid water carrier made from an adult Syrinx aruanus. It was carried by wrapping your fingers around the columella and putting your thumb through a neat hole chipped out of the body whorl. Ludwig Leichhardt collected it on Australia's north coast.

I guess oyster shells make handy scrapers and cutting edges. But those gastropods look as though they're the result of someone's dinner.

xoggoth said...

It does look like a crappy tool, I bet they made it up.

We have a similarly unfrequented museum in our town. Went there once, not a soul.

While the ranty tax payer part of one's brain rails at the idea of a publicly funded museum nobody ever goes to, the other bit (activated after a few vodkas) is grateful that such places exist. Wouldn't it be a shame if the total value for money efficiency we demand ever came about?

PS I do apologise for making a "good point" in a previous comment, it is something I strenuously avoid.

Anonymous said...

Some of the shells depicted were not regularly used as tools. A great reference is:

I have worked closely with Marquardt, and it's great fun to see what shells have been used for.
Laura Kozuch


Thanks for the link. I'll try to find a copy of that book in a library.

Anonymous said...

If you make a small fire on the wood, the charred portions are more easily chopped out using even the poor tools shown.