Conch shell tools


These two unusually shaped hand-held tools have been identified as the columella (inner spiral section) of Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) shells originating from Barbados. Conch is known for its mechanical strength, so perfect for tools. They were collected by colonial administrator, Sir Henry Hesketh Bell in either 1882 or 1883, while he was working in the office of the Governor of Barbados, and form part of a larger set of hand-held tools collected by Bell which include axe-heads, scrapers and hammers. Similar conch tools, labelled as originating from Barbados, are held in the Wisbech Museum.

Queen Conch shells were commonly used throughout the West Indies from prehistoric times as tools for everyday domestic tasks, usually in a minimally modified form or their natural state. Conch meat was an important food source and the shells were a convenient by-product. It is not known when the conch shell tools were made but the other ‘Neolithic’ ground tools in our set are thought to have been collected by Bell in Northern Nigeria, when he was Governor from 1909 to 1912, and may date from as early as 3000 BCE. They would have been used by early farming communities.

Bell took a great interest in the cultural and scientific traditions and practices of the territories he was sent to administer and the Royal Commonwealth Society collections hold his diaries, notebooks, letters, scrapbooks, publications and photographs.

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