Subject:      cowry indicates transpacific contacts
From: (Yuri Kuchinsky)
Date:         1997/09/22
Message-ID:   <6068ku$m25$>
Newsgroups:   sci.archaeology,sci.anthropology,,


So now I have finally got hold of Jackson's original 1917 book.

Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1917.

I've now looked at the relevant parts and it seems like Jackson has a
solid case. There's very good documentation for both a find (at least one)
of cowries in good precolumbian context, and for their identification by
qualified experts.

So here we are. I'm sure some of our critics will now have a fun time with
these long neglected findings.

I haven't yet looked at Jackson's other theories (such as the royal purple
that he also looks at in his book) but this one seems solid. It seems like
things are turning out exactly as Carter portrayed them. This very
important information has been sitting on the library shelf and people
never seemed to have bothered to read it, or to read it carefully, at

I have the highest regard for Carter. Outside of his early peopling of the
Americas theories, I've yet to see a single one of his theories and claims
not to be well founded. I've investigated a few already. His precolumbian
chickens in America theories are solid. In fact, there're very interesting
rumours around of a N. American precolumbian site with well documented
chicken bones...

According to Jackson, cowries (C. Moneta) do not occur naturally
anywhere near the Americas, yet they are found in many areas of the Old
World, but mostly between the East Coast of Africa and Australia. Some
of them also occur on some of the Pacific islands. In his book, on p.
124, Jackson gives a world map showing the above distribution. On p. 125
he gives another world map showing the distribution of the use of
cowries. This map shows their wide use everywhere in Africa, around the
Mediterranean (this was actually a shell sacred to Aphrodite, the
goddess of love), and as far as Russia and Scandinavia. They were also
widely used in South China, and in many places in the South East Asia.

They were ancient magical objects greately valued by peoples around the

What certainly strengthens Jackson's theories are his abundant
descriptions of great many complex and very important tribal rituals
associated with C. Moneta around the world. These rituals are remarkably
similar in many geographical areas -- including in America! So it's not
like he found some odd objects that may be intrusive, and out of place and
out of context. Everything that he says makes sense and fits together. The
cowries must have arrived to America together with the associated rituals.
And this is precisely what the Native tribal histories tell us.

As I already mentioned, C. Moneta were the sea shells sacred to Aphrodite,
and had many ritual fertility and sexual connotations. They were good luck
charms for women, given to girls at early age. Such uses of these shells,
incredible as it may sound, are consistent in great many areas of the
world. Surely this is very significant, and may relate to earlier times
when female deities were as important as male gods in popular religions.

Here are more particulars.

Jackson writes,

     The money-cowry (Cypraea moneta) is, and has been for centuries, a
     sacred object among the Ojibwa and Menomini Indians of North
     America, and is employed in initiation ceremonies of the Grand
     Medicine Society.

     The use of this particular cowry by these Indians is of peculiar
     interest; in the first place; owing to it being _alien to the
     American continent_, and in the second place, in view of its
     intimate association with so many remarkable and fantastic beliefs
     and practices in different parts of the Old World. (p. 184)

Jackson says that the traditions associated with cowries were believed
by the Ojibwa to have been given to them originally by their hero-god
Minabozho. (p. 185)

He describes in detail the rituals associated with these shells, having
to do with the death and resurrection of the candidate being initiated.
Jackson illustrates parallels with similar practices in China, where
these shells were also used in funeral contexts. Jackson writes that
rice also figured in such rituals in China (cowries and rice grains were
placed into the mouths of the dead). It is interesting that the Native
Americans also used rice together with cowries, but they used the wild

Further, Jackson also writes about

     The apparent identity in the spitting out of cowries [ritual] by
     the Togo priests of West Africa and by the medicine men of the
     Ojibwa and Menomini Indians... (p. 186)

Jackson also writes about the close parallels in association of the
money-cowry with the "medicine bags" both in America, and in the Sierra
Leone, in Africa.

This is what he writes about the archaeological find also mentioned by

     Some interesting evidence of the early use of the money-cowry in
     North America is contained in an exhaustive account on THE
     his description of the Roden Mounds, Marshall County, Alabama,
     this author informs us that in Burial #44, well in the body of
     mound A, were the remains of a skull, near which were fragments of
     a large marine univalve, and five shells, some much decayed, which
     had been pierced for stringing, like beads. These are pronounced
     by Dr. H. A. Pilsbry, the well-known American conchologist, to be
     examples of the money-cowry, _Cypraea moneta_, of Eastern Seas.
     Such shells have never been recorded before from an aboriginal
     mound in the United States. The careful investigation of the Roden
     mounds indicated that they had been built before their makers had
     any intercourse with white persons. The presence of the cowries,
     therefore, is of special interest. (pp. 186-7; he cites Jorn.
     Acad. Nat. Sci. Philad., 2nd Ser., xvi., pt. ii, 1915 for Moore's

Further, Jackson writes that the identification of these shells had also
been confirmed by another of America's leading conchologists of the
time, Dr. W. H. Dall.

Jackson also writes about other cases where money cowries were found in
early Amerindian contexts. One is as the decoration on a woman's dress.

     According to Mr. Charles C. Willoughby, the Peabody Museum,
     Cambridge, Mass., contains a dress of a Cree woman, collected by
     the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1804-5, on which are four dozen
     cowries (see American Anthropologist, 1905, for picture of the
     dress). (p. 188)

Also, Jackson writes about his careful analysis of an illustrated
(Second Annual Report of Ethnology, Washington, 1883, pp. 179-305) In
this publication, some shells "exhumed from ancient graves of North
America" (without a more precise attribution than that they came from
the West Coast) are illustrated. Jackson draws our attention to Fig. 11,
in that publication in which is portrayed, according to him, _Cypraea
caput-serpentis_, an Indo-Pacific species. Also, he identifies in Fig.
12 an _Ovula (Calpurnus) verrucosa, L._. This shell, similar to the
money cowry, is native to the Asian seas, and, like the previous one,
does not occur naturally in America.

Further, Jackson also discusses some other cases of similar shells found
in ancient contexts on the West Coast. He also gives one case from South
America, where cowries were also apparently highly valued. This is the
cowry from Manabi, Ecuador, but it is of a species native to Panama, and
does not derive from across the Pacific.

So now the ball is in your court, the esteemed sceptics.

Best regards,


Yuri Kuchinsky   | "Where there is the Tree of Knowledge, there
     -=-         | is always Paradise: so say the most ancient
 in Toronto      | and the most modern serpents."  F. Nietzsche
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