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Cowrie shells are beautiful egg-shaped shells belonging to sea mollusks of the genus Cypraea. Almost all of these shells are considered lovely because of a very shiny surface that has been compared to the sheen of porcelain. A few cowries may be an exception to this. For instance, the Hawaiian granulated cowrie has a much rougher exterior.
The other thing people find attractive about cowrie shells is their many colors and intricate patterns. Most show variant colors in a range of whites, shades of brown, black, orange and yellow. The patterns can resemble polka dots, swirls, and stripes, or appear marbled. For this reason, you may often find larger shells used as home décor, and smaller ones are common in jewelry, particularly necklaces. There are over 150 different species of cowries, and they’re found throughout most oceans.
You could say that the colors of these shells have always inspired people. Early African groups used them as currency or in trade. The Ojibway tribe of Native America used white cowrie shells in sacred ceremonies. They’ve also been used as dice or game pieces, and perhaps one of the most unusual uses of them is as a frame for darning socks, since the smoothness wouldn’t further damage a sock or stockings.
If you’re thinking of adding some decoration to your home with cowrie shells you’ll have a significant amount of choice in size and coloring. The smallest shells can be about .20 inches or roughly 5mm in length. The largest ones may measure 6 inches (15.24 cm) long. Consider a basket of these pretty shells where someone can sift through them or a vase or glass jar filled with them. You can use the larger shells as simple ornaments on a mantle or bookcase. The larger shells are fairly hard, and usually resist breakage well, so there’s not much worry if a visiting guest drops one by accident.
It has been suggested that cowrie shells may have been used in trade in North America. They’ve been found in archaeological digs too far from the oceans to have traveled by themselves. There isn’t consensus, but there is theory that use of cowrie shells in some form dates back at least 8000 years ago.