Identifying worked shell: a consideration of methodological issues with particular reference to Pleistocene contexts
Formal shell artefacts are commonly reported from Holocene deposits around the world, and largely consist of recognizable ornament and tool types. The reporting of shell artefacts from Pleistocene sites is rarer and often controversial. I argue that a typologically-driven culture-historical approach to reporting is obscuring our ability to recognize, describe and interpret early shell-working. In addition, our lack of understanding of 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 Homo erectus in Indonesia, I conclude that, in order to move forward, we need to develop our understandings of the properties of different types of shell and develop a more inclusive analytical framework.