There are a variety of tools made of shell that appear in coastal areas, or in sites that traded heavily with other sites in coastal areas.  In an upland context, these same tool types appear, but are made of chert.  Shell tools are simply an adaptation made by coastal people to make use of the resources close at hand.


Shell hoes are often made of large whelk (Busycon carica) shells.  Shells used for this purpose will have damage and wear along their pointed end and will have round holes drilled through them for the placement of a short handle.  Notice also that the knobbed whelk shell pictured above has damage on the point of the knobs.  This is an indication that the shell was also used as a hammer.  Shells that were used for food and discarded will normally have an opening in the top of the shell to retrieve the whelk.  Whelks can be found along the Atlantic coast from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Picks are often made of horse conch (Pleuroploca gigantea) shells, also known as giant band shells, because of their size and length, growing to as long as 24 inches.  These shells, like the whelk shells, will have a round perforation through the upper portion.  The opening of the outer shell of the younger horse conch is wide and has a pinkish hue that made them desirable for bead construction.  The outer shell is often found removed and cut in smaller pieces for this reason.  The removal of the outer shell exposed the center columella.  This center column could be left in tact for use as a pick, in which case it would display damage and wear at the pointed end. 

The column was also often removed for making pendents, chisels, and other things that could be used or traded.

Portions of the outer shell from the whelk or the conch could be removed to make dippers, spoons, or even bowls.

Bowls like this one from the Etowah Mound complex were the result of trade, perhaps in exchange for steatite items or copper.  Bowls made from horse conch were recovered from the Late Archaic sections of the Tick Island site in Volutia County, Florida had burned bottoms, indicating an attempt at cooking in shell vessels.  This did not prove to be a successful approach as all of the bottoms of the shell vessels had burned out.

Smaller horse conch shells used as dippers were traded to sites like Ocmulgee during the Middle Mississippian and Early Historic periods.

A very different kind of hoe or digging stick was made from oyster shells that were perforated, allowing the attachment of a stick handle for digging.

Only the heaviest of shells can be used to create tools like this celt.  These tools are very rare and are often recovered in mortuary contexts and may represent the high value placed on them by those that used them.

shell pottery scraper Washington coshell pottery scraper washington co2

 These pottery scrapers were recovered from a site in Washington County, Georgia.

Name: This name was used by Bennie C. Keel for an edge-abraded freshwater muscle shell (Cardium) that was recovered from the Tuckasegee site located at the forks of the Tuckasegee River in Jackson County, North Carolina.

Description: Keel described the shell scrapers he recovered to those used on a Cherokee reservation at the turn of the century described by Mark Harrington in 1922. Keel suggested that these scrapers were used as pottery scrapers. The scraping of pottery was a practice used to blend the coils of clay together to fill in an adhesive bond between the coils. While this process was subsequently followed by smoothing or polishing with a pebble, some Wilmington and St. Johns pottery from the Woodland periods used the shell scraping as a decorative motif as well. The shell recovered in Washington County, Georgia had the outer shell surface removed to expose the mother-of-pearl interior surface of the shell. One edge had been abraded to a smooth, straight line, presumable through the scraping process. The shells recovered measured between 1 and 1.5 inches in length and about 1 inch wide.

Age: The Tuckasegee site contained pottery ranging in age from Early Woodland Swannanoa pottery to Historic Qualla pottery, but the most numerous type was Connestee pottery. Keel reported a radiocarbon date of A.D. 805 +/- 85 for this type at the Garden Creek site. The shell pottery scrapers; however, could have been used at any or all of these states of occupation.