Contemporary craftspeople inspired by historic shell currency

Dr. Thane Militz and Nittya Simaro of University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, examined the Museum’s collection of Melanesian shell money from the Bismarck Archipelago. Militz had seen black and white photographs of some of the Museum's collection back in 2017- but color is particularly important in identifying types of shell currency.


Militz and Simaro work with people in New Ireland, PNG, to study their methods of creating, using, and trading/selling shell currency. They will be returning to their community partners with detailed photos of our historic shell money from which modern practitioners hope to learn old methods of manufacture. Militz notes, "The New Ireland Province of Papua New Guinea (PNG) has long placed a cultural significance on shell-based valuables. The practice of producing shell money for trade or sale continues today. For many small island communities, far from major markets and without arable land, shell money production is one of the few cash-generating livelihood opportunities available. The production of shell money continues to be used for traditional exchange rites and, more recently, supplies a contemporary shell-based handicraft industry (being incorporated into earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc.)"


(L-R) Chris Philipp, Nittya Simaro and Thane Militz examine fragments of shell money strands from New Ireland.

Samples of different stages and materials used in shell money making, from the Duke of York Islands


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Header photo © FMNH. By James Balodimas