The Dentaliidae Family of shells has over 300 different species found world wide. At
one time this family of shells was held in high regard by the Native Americans and
aboriginal people throughout the world. Various species of the shell were considered
to have monetary value and were used as trade throughout the 19th century. When you
look at the shell it is easy to see how it caused creative people to see many ways they
could incorporated it into an art form. The shell, being tubular and open at both ends,
made it easily used to produce necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and adornment for clothing.
It was a simple matter for a seamstress to run threads through the shells and attach them
to articles of clothing. Many ancient cultures used specific species of the shell that were
more costly to obtain to show rank and position of the bearer. The shell was often used
for ceremonial purposes.
Even though the shell housed a small animal it was considered a food source. People
living by the ocean often ate whatever was available fresh from the sea. This little
creature was easily accessible so they would pick up the shell and suck the food from it.
To us today it doesn’t sound appetizing but we eat raw oysters and sushi which are not
Times have not changed much when it comes to the usage of the Dentaliidae Family
of shells. Even today this little shell is used to create jewelry and many different types
of crafts. One of the craft forms we are familiar with at the Old Gray House is to use
dentalium to surround picture frames or mirrors.