Divining value in subtle traces: Exploring the potential of new analytical methods to study shell beads

Link to join the seminar on Teams

Hardy, striking in appearance and easily modified into beads or strung into composite items, shells have been widely used in adornment through time. Combining perspectives from archaeological and anthropological research this paper explores the potential of a novel interdisciplinary methodology for generating insights into the uses, meanings and values of shell beads and beaded items in museum collections. An exploration of cowrie shells used within the context of divinatory practices in southern Africa reveals how attributes such as origin and colour were shaped within an alternative ontology linked to ancestry and healing. Analyses of modification and use-wear traces on shells in museum collections in South Africa and at the Pitt Rivers Museum, further illuminate the unique trajectories of similarly shaped shells. In combination, a multifaceted examination of the properties of shell objects attest to their diverse biographical possibilities.

Pitt Rivers Museum Research Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, Hilary 2021

Online on Teams (the link is above)

Fridays, 12pm-1.30pm (Weeks 1-2, 4-6, 8)

Convened by Christopher Morton and David Zeitlyn