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Just the names for this shell have interesting stories to tell. The English word comes from the Hindi kauri, widely used for seashells in general. In turn, the Hindi word is from Sanskrit, the "mother language" of Hindi, but its real origin is from a Dravidian language of South India unrelated to either Hindi or Sanskrit.

The scientific name of the cowry is from the Latin, Cypraea. This has the same root as Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean, the birthplace of Cypris, otherwise known as the Goddess of Love, Venus or Aphrodite. This association is from the "female shape" of the shell's aperture.

But that's not the end of it. When Marco Polo saw them in use he called them porcellana, an Italian word meaning "little pigs" because of their general shape. When Chinese ceramics began to be imported into Europe, their smooth, polished white surfaces reminded people of the little pigs, and eventually the ceramics came to be called porcelain.

Cowries have been used for beads for millennia. They are found in Neolithic China (as at Banpo) and real and imitation cowries were used in China as beads and money for thousands of years. Cowry beads made of gold were worn in ancient Egypt (see here). Nor is it an accident that our word comes from Indian languages. Cowries were used for small change in Bengal for longer than anyone knows. Arab traders (not Europeans) introduced them to East Africa, from which they reached West Africa before European traders.
They were used for money as well as charms.

The most common cowry is the ring cowry (C. annulus), found from southeast Africa to the Cook Islands. It gets its name from the ring around its back.

The true money cowry (C. moneta) has an irregular outline and is yellow in color. It is found mostly around the remote Maldive Islands, which adds to its scarcity.

The magical use of cowries revolves around one of two uses. They are considered powerful in ensuring female fertility. They are also thought effective against the Evil Eye (see here) because of their general eye shape. In Iran they are called "eye crackers."

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