There is a type of artifact found in British Columbia that I suspect archaeologists have been missing during the process of excavation. Some have a minimum of grinding on the ends and are difficult to identify if they are not carefully examined. These are artifacts made from the tubular shaped shell or tunnel cast of the Teredo mullosc, the common shipworm.

    These Toredo tube shells have been used in historic times as hat ornaments (figures 1-3) and as smaller beads (figure 4-5) in ancient times.

    Figure 1. Bella Coola woven hat with Toredo shell ornaments. RBCM 18655.

    Figure 1. Bella Coola woven hat with Toredo shell ornaments. RBCM 18655.

    Figure 2. Close up of three pieces of Toredo cast tubes from hat. RBCM 18655.

    Figure 2. Close up of three pieces of Toredo cast tubes from hat. RBCM 18655.

    Figure 3. Close up of ground end of Mullosc tube on hat. RBCM 18655.

    Figure 3. Close up of ground end of Mullosc tube on hat. RBCM 18655.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The Teredos are intertidal species of salt water clams famous for eating holes in ships and other wooden objects.  It is the wood tunnel lined with calcareous material extruded by the mollusc that creates a round sectioned tube. This tube was used by Indigenous people for making body adornment artifacts such as the beads and hat ornaments shown here. The tubes can be up to 600mm long and often range from 4-12mm in thickness (figure 4).

     

    Figure 4. Natural Teredo shell tubes on left. Right: Tube beads - DeRv-107:56 on the bottom and DeRt-9:230 on top.

    Figure 4. Natural Teredo shell tubes on left. Right: Tube beads – DeRv-107:56 on the bottom and DeRt-9:230 on top.

     

    There are six shell tubes strung on leather cords that can be seen as ornamental design on the Bella Coola hat (figure 1). Their length ranges from 40 to 62mm. Only a few of the tubes show evidence of grinding on the ends.  This hat was collected in Bella Coola in 1893.

    The larger of the two tube beads (figure 4-5) is from archaeological site DeRv-107 in the Maple Bay area of Vancouver Island. It is 21mm long by 13mm wide and has been ground on the ends. The small bead from site DeRt-9 at Lyall Harbour on Saturna Island is 8mm long by 7mm wide. It has been ground on the ends as well as the sides. The ground ends of the two beads can be seen in figure 5.

     

    Figure 5. Tube beads showing ground ends. Left: DeRv-107:56. Right: DeRt-9:230.

    Figure 5. Tube beads showing ground ends. Left: DeRv-107:56. Right: DeRt-9:230.

    Grant Keddie

    Human History

    Curator, BC Archaeology

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