MAN and SHELLS: Molluscs in the History

Magic, Mythology, and Religion

Author(s): Riccardo Cattaneo-Vietti, Mauro Doneddu and Egidio Trainito

Pp: 29-55 (27)

DOI: 10.2174/9781681082257116010006

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


In all cultures, people wore and used shells for decoration, or religious purposes. The oldest recorddates backto about 500,000years ago, and sincePalaeolithic, no human grave was found without ornaments made with shells. Over time,some shells even assumed magicalproperties, often linked to the mysteries of conception, birth and femininity: a symbolism summarized in the myth of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love.

The tradition of putting one or more shells in the mouth or on the eyes of the dead has been well-known in China as well as in Europe, later adopted by the Greek and Roman cultures. This tradition, so surprisingly common in many tra-ditions, recall the two fundamental attributes that Man has given to some shells: religious symbol and economic value.

One shell above all, the scallop, the shell of St James, has assumed an absolute importance, intertwined with the history of Christianity: it is the symbol and wit-ness of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. This shell often accompanied the Christian in his grave, according to a millenarian tradition. Other shells, mainly pearl oysters, were the witness of the pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca, while various religious beliefs, in some way, involved shellfish: in Sicily, with the tradition of, as well as in England, with the legend of.

Finally, some molluscs can produce the pearl, an extraordinary symbol of perfec-tion, beauty, and vitality. According to an old tradition, in fact, the pearl has the power to preserve beauty and sexual desire.

Keywords: Aphrodite, Arene Candide Cave, Balzi Rossi Caves, bestiaria, Blom-bos Cave, Concha de Santiago, cosmic prayer, cowries, Cro-Magnon Man, Las-caux Caves, Dentalium, Java Man, Los Aviones Cave, molluscs, mythology, na-tive Americans, paper nautilus, Pecten, pilgrim's scallop, Pope Benedict XVI, St Lucy, St Hilda, Santiago de Compostela, Spondylus, Ucagizli Cave.

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