Formal shell artefacts are commonly reported from Holocene deposits around the world, and largely consistof recognizable ornament and tool types. The reporting of shell artefacts from Pleistocene sites is rarer andoften controversial. I argue that a typologically-driven culture-historical approach to reporting is obscuringour ability to recognize, describe and interpret early shell-working. In addition, our lack of understandingof the properties of shell as a raw material is resulting in the application of intuitive methodologies,sometimes underpinned by faulty assumptions. Speaking to a recent claim of shell tool use by Homoerectus in Indonesia, I conclude that, in order to move forward, we need to develop our understandingsof the properties of different types of shell and develop a more inclusive analytical framework.