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Conus Shell Beads

The name for Conus shells is not nearly complex as for cowries.
Conus simply means "cone," and the shells are so named because they are shaped like two cones joined at the base.

Two small Conus shells. Their name comes from the double cones that most of them resemble.

The Conus animal is a carnivore that eats small fish and worms and drills into other shells to eat the animal inside. Some can give you a nasty sting if you pick up a live one.

Unlike most univalves, the Conus shell itself does not have a real columella. Instead of building a solid center spire, it produces a continual, thin, spiraled interior wall that is sometimes reabsorbed by the animal. It is easy to pierce a Conus shell by grinding off the apex and pushing a needle though it, breaking the thin interior walls.

Conus shells are strung up whole, but by far the most common way to use them is to smash off the whorl or body of the shell and use only the spire. This produces disc shaped beads, used since high antiquity.

Two old pendants of Conus shell tops from Iran. The one with the incised dotted star is similar to one found at Tepe Hisar from about 800 B.C.

Modern Conus and cowry beads from the African trade. The broken back of the cowry is the most common way to use this shell. The Conus disc is also very popular.


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