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History, description and identification of seashells - my collection from Madagascar

Anthozoa, Cephalopoda, Echinozoa
The best things I have collected in my life are my shells. They gave me the pleasure of their prodigious structure, the lunar purity of their mysterious porcelain.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)
It is perhaps a more fortunate destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

1 - The most famous shell collectors

Seashell collecting is not a shameful disease, rather a virus that has infected many celebrities :

  • Scipio the African, Roman general
  • Louis XIII, King of France
  • Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia
  • Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States
  • Edgar Allan Poe, poet “architect” of the modern short story
  • Albert the first, Prince of Monaco
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, Scot travel writer
  • Hirohito, Emperor of Japan
  • Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet-diplomat
  • Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond
  • Fidel Castro,the Cuban revolutionary and politician (anecdote regarding CIA)

2 - The origin of the shells

Seashells are one of the oldest forms of animal life.

Main milestones in animal evolution since the "big-bang of life" on Earth.
life evolution

(1-5)The five mass extinctions since the "big-bang of life" (540 million years ago aka Cambrian(*) geological era).
(*) Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, Permian, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleogene, Neogene, Holocene(**).

(**)We are currently living in the Holocene era which began in 9700 BC. The Anthropocene period (or Human era), which began in 1610 when the Old World met the New World, was recently added. The impact of human activity on the climate, ecosystems and the overexploitation of natural resources has triggered what scientists suspect as the sixth mass extinction of our planet ☹ .

3 - Seashells and civilization

Human interest in seashells dates back to prehistoric times and had a strong spiritual symbology. Collections of shells have been found in the ruins of Pompeii, in Mayan temples in Yucatán and in caves in Burgundy (d'Arcy-sur-Cure) dating from the Neanderthal.

Seafood is often part of our festive meals but their flesh was an important part of the daily diet of prehistoric men living near the seashore. The shells have also proved to be very useful, in particular as a means of barter, in the making of tools and jewelry as well as in the production of dyes. They probably inspired human constructions and mathematicians and even poems.

Seahells are still a surprising source of lessons in the fields of archeomalacolology, medicine and biomimicry.

4 - Story of this site

4.1 - Genesis

I have inherited a collection of shells mainly from Diego-Suarez (Madagascar). It is not only composed of shells (gastropods and bivalves) but also of nautilus, sea urchin, argonauts, corals.

I was only 6 or 7 years old, and I remember the weekends on these vast deserted beaches of Diego-Suarez where, with my father, we spent hours collecting shells and corals. Over time, my parents built up a remarkable collection which they brought back from Madagascar. Shortly before their death, the house had to be sold and for lack of space, all the shells were quickly packed and piled up in a basement for years while they were the pride of my parents.

Now retired, I have decided to give them a second life. For this, Internet seems to me the best way to expose them to potential amateurs. So I gradually brought out the shells from the basement to photograph and measure them, then I repacked them and put them back in the basement (hopeful of finding a definitive place). As we open our Christmas presents, I opened, week after week, many suitcases filled with seashells!

Before creating the site it required a hard work to produce its content :

  • photograph (front, back and possibly in profile) each specimen of several hundred species
  • crop each photo on a transparent background and fusion of the different views into a single image
  • Identify hundreds of species took me a long time burning the midnight oil and it is quite possible that some are still wrong, I humbly accept your enlightened remarks. I had no certainty about their origins (some shells were collected on the spot but, others bought from local merchants). One can however reasonably assume that they come mainly from the East African coasts or the Indian Ocean.
  • for each family, write a description sheet (common names, common appearance of the shells, food, living environment)

This is how I got a taste for the world of seashells and I now understand better why they have fascinated so many people for so long. To my surprise, I discovered on the beaches of the French Riviera, many shells from different families (Bullidae, Cerithidae, Columbellidae, Conidae, Cypraeidae, Haliotidae, Pisanidae, Trochidae, Triviidae , Vermetidae, Arcidae, Limidae, ...) which enriched my collection!

Drawing on the experience of my research, I wrote a mini-guide for identification of shells which :

  • lists some websites that have been of great help to me
  • for each seashell family, its classification (Family ← Super-family ← Order)
  • indicates some observation keys on certain details of the shells

However, to be able to identify a shell you need to know a certain number of specific terms and a minimum knowledge of the anatomy and structure of a shell. So, I made a compilation of information available on the web : shells for dummies

4.2 - Creation of this site

At the beginning, I wrote a small utility (a bash script) to make my job easier and to update the site automatically as much as possible after each modification :

I used three powerful free softwares :

  • "ImageMagick" for pictures batch processing
  • "LibreOffice Draw" for the diagrams
  • "Gimp" for image editing

Time passing, I added features and improved ergonomics. This program can now create websites from various "collections".

The success of free software is due to the sharing of "source code".
In this spirit, this site provides the application that allows you to create sites on this model.

Clementine Evayoko

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Clementine Evayoko - youtube

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Clémentine does not have the support of any producer, never goes on the radio and yet what talent! much more than the "sons or daughters of ..." who enjoy wide publicity despite a barely average artistic level, what a waste ...
listen to this voice, there is nothing to add

The Arsène space in Saint-Paul-en-Cornillon hosted a vernissage dedicated to ceramics. We were able to discover the works of Françoise, a young and talented retiree. The link opposite shows some of these creations.


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