Marine shell as medium in Amerindian Aruba

Marlene S. Linville
Dept. of Anthropology, City University of New York
July, 2005


Archaeologists in the Caribbean have long recognized the utility of shell-based analysis in environmental and dietary reconstructions. Increasingly, however, researchers are expanding the role of shell artifacts in their investigations of prehistoric societies. This research examines the ornamental and/or symbolic (O/S) use of marine shell in Amerindian Aruba. Of particular interest is the potential of museum collections to assist archaeological interpretations of the past. An investigation of marine shell artifacts in the collections of the Archaeological Museum of Aruba (AMA) provides insights into the archaeology of Aruba's Amerindian cultures, and suggests pathways toward an increased understanding of past utilization of Aruba's marine shell resources and the cultural value of these among the island's Amerindian inhabitants. Drawing on ethnohistoric, archaeological, and other anthropological sources, this study considers the socio-cultural and/or political implications of observed spatial and temporal variation in the ornamental, ceremonial and/or symbolic use of marine shell resources.