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Shell or Tooth?

An unusual shell bead comes from West Africa (I have yet to learn exactly where) and is widely known as "Hippo tooth." Where this name originated, I cannot say. I don't know whether it is used by the people who make or wear this bead or is a trader's term. A lot of the history of this bead needs more investigation.

However, the "Hippo tooth" name has caused some confusion. The bead is identified in some books as a tooth, rather than a shell. One book called it a "drilled Hippo tooth" on one page and bone on another. But it is shell.

Arca (ark) shells. The one at the top is Arca zebra, that lives in the Caribbean and north to North Carolina. It is just 3 cm (about an inch) wide.

At the bottom is a bead pierced lengthwise made from just the flat part (top right on the smaller shell) of the giant ark shell, Arca grandosa. This is the so-called "Hippo tooth." It is about 3 inches (7 cm) long, and is just a part of the original shell.

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