A string of marine shell beads from the Neolithic site of Vršnik (Tarinci, Ovče pole), and other marine shell ornaments in the Neolithic of North Macedonia


en Anthropozoologica 56 (4) - Pages 57-70

Published on 12 March 2021

The study of ornaments made of marine shells has remarkable importance for understanding prehistoric societies. They tell us about fashion, aesthetic and cultural affinities of the individuals and social groups, as well as ancient networks of communication and exchange. The number of marine shell items known from the Neolithic period of North Macedonia is relatively low. Albeit few, they vary in ornament type, with beads, bangles and pendants represented, and the kind of shell used as raw material, as they are made of shells of bivalves, gastropods, and scaphopods. Of special importance is a find of 157 shell beads, presumably from a single string, discovered in 1958 in an anthropomorphic vessel at the site of Vršnik in Ovče pole. It was the recognition of this find, and the fact that it was originally poorly described, and later almost completely forgotten, that initiated this study. The majority of beads are tubular and made of shells of two mollusks with very different shell morphology (bivalves and scaphopods), yet they are strikingly similar in size, shape, and color. In addition, the collection included white stone tubular beads, a single shell discoid bead, and three perforated snails. This find, as well as others from the region of North Macedonia, enhance our understanding of marine shell items distribution in continental Europe in the Neolithic period. Also, it adds to the visibility of scaphopod items share in exchange networks, which might be underestimated because of the difficulties in their recognition.


Personal ornaments, Spondylus, Antalis, scaphopods.

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