Mesoamerican shell cuff adornments

September 08, 2015

Although my primary purpose in collecting antique objects is to hold and research body adornment jewelry, over the years I have picked up some pieces that are fascinating from a technical or cultural perspective (such as obsidian micro blade cores and shell beads), and some pieces that although I believed to be body adornments, I couldn't prove it. Such was the case with these curved shell forms which I immediately believed to be earrings, although I had never seen an example until a visit to the national museum of anthropology in Mexico City.

Some chats with others suggested they may be finger holds for 'atlatl' (spear throwers), but I believed them to have purpose as body adornments that would hang from various parts of the ear or also from headdresses or belts, just as ear flares and other objects were worn in many different ways. Unfortunately, I had no legitimate confirmation or historical reference for them being used in this way. On a visit to the Museo de Anthropologia in Mexico City, I was excited to find multiple instances of these objects being displayed with other adornments of shell and stone (ear flares, strands of beads, etc).

 

I also ran across a reconstructed burial display where these objects were displayed around the skull, further suggesting a body adornment scenario.

With these finds, I'm excited to display these pieces among my other body adornment jewelry from Prehispanic cultures and continue researching how they were made and worn. With shell being one of the more unusual and underrepresented materials used in body adornment,  and among the first and oldest of all adornment materials in the Prehispanic Americas and elsewhere, I'm thrilled to have this new knowledge.



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