MAN and SHELLS: Molluscs in the History

The Trumpet Conchs

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

Pp: 57-66 (10)

DOI: 10.2174/9781681082257116010007

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


Since archaic periods, shells were used to produce sounds in many cultures. The conch-trumpet is a musical instrument among the most universal, and at the same time, the most durable. Over the centuries, whelks have become widespread in many Mediterranean populations, andalso in Indo-Pacific and in almost all of the Americas, even in distant lands over the sea. Of course, there were different shells for different cultures: Charonia lampasin Mediterranean, the “chank” Turbinella pyrum,considered sacred inIndia, the horse conch Pleu-roploca giganteaand Strombus gigasin Americas, Cassis cornutain the Indian Ocean, and Charonia tritonisand Syrinx aruanusin the Pacific Islands.

According to Greek myths, the whelk sounded the end of the Universal Deluge, while in central Europe, the custom of playing it in the wind, during a storm, survived until to the 20th century.

The whelk is not just a musical instrument popular in many cultures and in many historical periods, but has also achieved a prominent place in the arts, as Triton, son of Poseidon, plays a whelk to announce the end of the Deluge.

Shell-rattles, such as “maracas” and “castanets” sounding by shack or percussion, were mainly used in magic rituals by shamans and sorcerers: their sounds ac-company ritual dances, marking the beat, or as rattles, to amuse children.

Keywords: Buddhism, Cassis, castanets, chank, Charonia, Dakshinavarti, deluge, dung-dkar, Bernini, Hinduism, horse conch, maracas, molluscs, Pleuroploca, shankha, shell-rattles, Strombus, Syrinx, Triton, trumpet conchs, Turbinella, valampuri.

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