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shell money,medium of exchange consisting of shells, the most widely distributed type of ancient currency. Shells are particularly useful as money because they may be strung in long strips of proportionate value or they may be used to provide a single unit value in exchange. Shells ultimately derived their value from their use as jewelry and in rituals. Relative scarcity of the type of shell used or the way the shell is fashioned often determines its value. Cowriecowrie
, common name applied to marine gastropods belonging to the family Cypraeidae, a well-developed family of marine snails found in the tropics. Cowries are abundant in the Indian Ocean, particularly in the East Indies and the Maldive Islands.
..... Click the link for more information. shells have been the most common shell media and are probably the oldest in usage for exchange. Wampumwampum
[New England Algonquian,=white string of beads], beads or disks made by Native Americans from the shells of mollusks found on the eastern coast or along the larger rivers of North America, used as a medium of exchange and in jewelry.
..... Click the link for more information. , used in North America, was usually fashioned from thick-shelled clams; dentalia, or tooth shells, were popular with the coastal Native Americans of W North America. Mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell are said to have been used for trade in ancient China. Oceanic peoples in particular use a variety of shells in trade.