Seashell collecting is not a shameful disease, rather a virus that has infected many celebrities :
Seashells are one of the oldest forms of animal life.
(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(**).
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.
In the Apache tribes, the "Sunrise ceremony" celebrates the coming-of-age of young Apache girls who wear for the occasion a piece of abalone shell above their foreheads. It re-enacts the legend of White Painted Woman who survived the Great Flood in an abalone shell.
The scallop shell ("coquille Saint-Jacques" in french) owes its french name to the eponymous St. James, who made the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Likewise, the elongated clam ("bénitier" in french) owes its french name to the verb "bénir" (to bless). This shell was often used as a holy water stoup at the entry of the churches.
In the ancient Hindu civilizations some newts were sacred, used as a trumpet, they eliminated negative energies and represented the sound of "Dharma", the teaching of the Buddha.
According to Inca legend, the power of Atahualpa the son of the Sun God, came from the shells of oysters of the genus Spondylus.
In Nigeria, porcelains represented a god's eye, the goddesses' uterus and the vessel of life and regeneration.
The Pompeian Romans and, later, West African women wore porcelain necklaces to prevent sterility.
The refined aesthetics of "sea of shells" site presenting magnificent photos, annotated with very beautiful texts, illustrates wonderfully the sacred respect of primitive peoples for the sea and seashells in particular.
holy water stoup (Saint-Sulpice church, Paris)
scallop (Saint-Pierre collegiate church, French Riviera)
The oldest consumption of shellfish by Homo sapiens dates back to around 160,000 years ago and they were an important source of food for coastal populations.
Marine pollution encourages us to be vigilant about the origin of seafood. In fact, most seashells are filter feeders which excrete part of the non-degradable toxins in their waste and in their shells. Four types of contaminants accumulate in shellfish
NB mussels and oysters detoxify from lead by storing it in their shells.
It will be noted that it is mainly bivalves that are consumed although half as numerous as gastropods :
The oyster Lunch
With the sedentarization of prehistoric men, at the beginning of the Neolithic, the first forms of society appeared and the only way to acquire a good (tools, animals, food, ...) was to exchange it for a service or another item (barter principle).
But barter limits the development of trade because supply does not necessarily correspond exactly to demand and perishable goods are only available at certain times of the year (harvests for food for example).
Thus the emergence of exchange units : seashells in the beginning then precious metals (silver, gold).
The shells had the advantage of bringing together the main characteristics of a currency :
It is especially the porcelains, in particular the two species below, which were used as money and which are more generally called cowries.
They are found at the museum of the "national bank of Belgium" and on the pediment of the building of the "Central Bank of the States of West Africa" in Bamako, Mali.
Moreover, from January 1, 2022, the new regional currency of West Africa will be called the "cauri" replacing the CFA franc.
The shells were used to make various tools (scrapers, projectile's points, vase, hook, etc.).
In the Marquesas Islands, some varieties of murex or cowries were cleverly modified to serve as peelers for the breadfruit.
In classical times, in Athens, citizens who endangered democracy (because of their power) were banished for ten years. The vote for the judgment was written on oyster shells, hence the term ostracism (from the Greek ostrakon, oyster).
conch primitive horn
sharply carved columella
Not to mention pearl oysters, this is the area that best contributes to the popularity of seashells.
Mother-of-pearl (the inner layer of the shell) was an element of choice in jewelry and marquetry.
Beard of pelican's foot
The natural beauty of seashells has often been used in decoration. These images come from the rockery cave of the Urfé castle
Cameos, these small, slightly raised engravings were cut from agate. The beginning of travels around the world, in the XVIIth century, allowed the discovery of new shells which present a natural gradient in the thickness of the shell.
cameo (Cassis madagascariensis)
In ancient times, the color purple, the prerogative of the Roman emperors, was much sought after. The oldest traces have been found in Crete and date back to 1600 BC.
These dyes come in particular from "Bolinus brandaris" or "Stramonita haemastoma"
We can notice the influence of shells on the architecture of some traditional constructions
Tây Phuong pagoda
asian sea seashells
The roof of the Sydney Opera House represents superimposed seashells.
Lunulicardia retusa auricula
Some seashells conceal true mathematical objects :
Cymbiola innexa & Oliva porphyra
Sierpinski fractal triangles
The analysis of shell's remains provides precious indications for the study of archaeological sites (archaeomalacology)
In medicine, the amazing properties of toxins from certain poisonous shells (Conidae) are being studied for analgesic treatments, epilepsies or the recovery of damaged nerves.
The "Conus magus" cone venom has made it possible to synthesize an analgesic for severe chronic pain, 2000 times more powerful than morphine with the advantage of not causing addiction.
The cone venom "Conus victoriae" allowed the synthesis of a drug used in the treatment of neuropathic pain 100 times more active than last generation antiepileptics.
The venom (µ-conotoxin) of certain Conidae (Conus marmoreus, geographus, striolatus, ...) contains peptides (which we do not know how to synthesize) which allow to close / open the sodium channels (propagation of the nervous signal) and therefore to study the functioning of the nervous system and to produce new insecticides, local analgesics, antiarrhythmics, anti-epileptics, etc.
Surprising properties have been discovered in molluscs, promising sources of technological innovation :
The shell of abalones (Haliotidae) are twice as hard as the best high-tech ceramics. The pearly coating is a perfect tiling which combines rigid layers of calcium carbonate (aragonite) and flexible layers of proteins (Lustrin-A) which gives it a flexibility capable of absorbing violent shocks and supporting weights of several tonnes. Scientists are inspired to design new materials that will be revolutions comparable to the advent of the Iron Age or the Industrial Revolution.
The byssus of mussels (Mytilidae) which allows them to attach to rocks is, in fact, the most powerful glue in the world: it resists UV, salt, high and low temperatures, it is very resistant and especially glue under water. These filaments also make it possible to produce the best suture threads used in particular in cosmetic surgery.
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 :
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 :
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
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 :
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.