School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
Parkinson, Gavin, Establishing Traces for the Working of Nautilus Shell in Prehistory, BSci Hons, School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of Wollongong, 2016.
In 1994 and 1996, Peter Bellwood and colleagues excavated Golo Cave, an archaeological site on Gebe Island, eastern Indonesia. This excavation uncovered a number of artefacts, including examples of modified shells. Fragments of Nautilus pompilius were also uncovered, however, due to difficulty identifying traces of working on the unique structure of Nautilus shell, it was uncertain if these fragments represented worked samples or not. This paper presents the findings of a number of experiments aimed at determining the origins of the Nautilus shell fragments recovered from Golo Cave.
Firstly, whole shell specimens of Nautilus shell were fractured using an INSTRON machine to generate examples of an edge formed through natural compaction. Secondly, a number of materials were used to experimentally work modern samples of Nautilus belauensis, with particular attention paid to abrasion and score-snap experiments. The INSTRON and experimentally worked samples were then examined using both low-power and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to identify the traces of natural breakage and deliberate modification respectively. Once these traces had been established, the Nautilus samples from Golo Cave were also examined using low-power and high-power (SEM) microscopy to identify any similar patterns between the INSTRON fractured samples or the experimentally worked samples. It was found that some of the Golo Cave fragments had indeed been deliberately worked by humans, with positive identification of working traces found on some of the samples. Naturally fractured edges were also recognised on Golo Cave fragments when compared to the INSTRON fractured specimens. An ethnographic study within this project also examined the past and current use of Nautilus shell as a raw material in a Solomon Island context to gain a better understanding of the practical and cultural significance of its use in the present day and the past. This component was used to develop the methodology for this project, but also found that the general trend of Nautilus shell use has transitioned from having a strong cultural and spiritual importance to having a more economic importance in recent decades.