Shell currency has been around for over 4,000
years and was, in it's heyday, the most widely used currency in the world.
Even today, there still exist minor currencies based on certain shells.
Some examples of
shells' uses in trade are:
loose in bags or strung into strands, were the earliest forms of currency
used in many countries. The Chinese, so far as we know, were the first
people to use cowries as currency. Here, cowries have been found in
prehistoric Stone Age sites. Examples of other country's native money-strands
are the "diwara" of New Guinea, "rongo" in the Melanesian
islands and "sapisapi" in Africa. The image of the cowrie
as a type of currency was so strong that the first metal coin minted
in the Greek colony of Lydia (around 670 B.C) was modeled after that
shell. By the eighteenth century, approximately 400 million cowries
were being traded per year (that's a LOT of shells!!!) mostly for the
purchase of black slaves. By the middle of the nineteenth century, it
could take up to 100,000 cowries just to buy a young wife. Inflation,
it seems, was the main demise of the cowrie currency.
Iin New Guinea,
the kina, (main
currency) and the tabu (shell currency) are
both used in some areas of New Guinea. It is thought that the kina
was named after the gold-lip pearl shell which is the most highly
prized shell by the various cultural groups. Too learn more about
tabu, visit the Money
- Traditional Tolai Tabu web Page.
the currency of Papua New Guinea is made up of Kina (keena)
and toea (toya) with 100 toea equal to One Kina.
mid-market rates as of 2003.02.28
1.00 PGK Papua New Guinea Kina (PGK)= 0.278396 USD United
1 PGK = 0.278396 USD 1 USD = 3.59200 PGK
to see photos of New Guinea tribal costume
clamshells and whelks were the shells used
to make the North American Indian wampum. Eastern Indians also used the tusk
shell as a trade shell. Wampum continued to be used as money through
the first half of the eighteenth century when it finally died out due
to counterfeiting and mass production.
clamshells, Northern Quahog
Dentalium (Antalis) pretiosum
Tusk, I"o*qua shell
Beads and other ornaments
were made of "Spiny Oyster" for barter
Chumash Indians of California, U.S.A. also make beads from
the purple olive shell that they use as money. The name “Chumash”
actually translates to men “bead money makers”.
Y ou may which to visit them at their
(Sowerby I, 1825)
Purple Olive Shell
Pearly oysters were traded all over the Panamanian and
Aztecs paid shell tributes to the Emperor Montezuma.
Ancient Phoenician coins distributed throughout
the Mediterranean world were sculptured in the likeness of the scallop,
murex and Triton shells.