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Nature volume 145, pages 7475 (13 January 1940) | Download Citation

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Australian Shell ornaments A DETAILED study of shell ornaments in use by the aborigines over wide areas in Australia has been made by C. P. Mountford and Alison Harvey, ethnologists of the South Australian Museum (Records S. Austral. Mus., 6, 2, 1939). These shell ornaments fall into two divisions, one made from the baler shell (Mela diadema) and the second from the shell of the pearl oyster (Meleagrina maxima) and the smaller pearl shell (Meleagrina margaritifera). The pearl shell ornaments are found almost exclusively in western Australia, while with a few exceptions the baler shell ornament is limited to Queensland, Western Central Australia and north-eastern South Australia. The pearl shell ornaments are used for decoration and as objects of ceremonial importance. For the former purpose they are suspended from a belt back and front, while both men and women wear several down the back suspended from a necklace of human hair. In Central Australia the chief aspect of their magical purpose is their potence in charms for women and their healing properties. Various myths are woven round the pearl shell, and a particular chant is sung when the designs, which appear on them, are being engraved. The ornaments are oval in shape and vary from two to eight inches in length. The baler shell ornaments vary in use according to locality; but they may be used as ornaments or for ceremonial purposes. In west-central Queensland, for example, they are used for personal adornment or as a decoration on the haft of a spear-thrower. Among the Dieri, however, the shell ornament had great magical value and was closely connected with the circumcision ceremony, in which it was worn by the initiate as a chest ornament. The Dieri were also the only tribe using the shell for evil magic. In appearance the ornament was an ovate piece of white shell from two and a half inches to five inches long. Designs were engraved on the concave face and red ochre rubbed in. These shell ornaments were intended for male use only, but in certain circumstances, more or less ceremonial, women were allowed to handle or use them.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/145074a0

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