On every stretch of beach in North Carolinas Outer Banks there lies countless remnants of lives once lived. Indeed, the very sand on which we walk is all that remains of bone, shell and boulder worn by weather and wave over countless lifetimes. It must be assumed then that for each insignificant grain of sand on the beach, there must be a story of how it came to be there. Think about that for a moment. Next time you find yourself strolling down one of the Outer Banks pristine beaches, consider the sand that sticks between your toes. Depending on its composition, it could be sand that was formed five months ago, or five million years ago.
Almost as ubiquitous as the tiny fragments of Earth gone by that we call sand are the remains of various shellfish that have washed ashore. No longer playing host to their fleshy former residents, these colorful shells dot the North Carolina shores from end to end, adding color and variety to the usually grey/white sands. For generations we have collected them, sorted them, arranged them by size and used them to create art. This fascination we all seem to share with sea shells isn’t new. During the reign of the Roman Emperor Caligula, after declaring war upon the sea itself during an expedition to the English Channel, Caligula had his men gather sea shells from the shore, claiming them as the spoils of war and shipping them back to Rome as proof that he had conquered the ocean!
Perhaps one of the most enduring uses of certain types of shells has been for the creation of jewelry. The earliest example of jewelry known to man, in fact, is a pair of drilled snail shell beads that have been dated to around 120,000 years ago. Native Americans indigenous to North Carolina and the Outer Banks region also made use of the colorful and multitudinous shells for many types of jewelry as well as for ornamental and ceremonial clothing. This tradition continues today. Craftsfolk on the Outer Banks still collect and convert the various shells found here into jewelry and other decorative items.
The shops on the Outer Banks carry all kinds of shell art. Conch shells, polished and painted with beautiful detail expressing aspects of island life and culture. Necklaces and bracelets made with sea shell beads in all shapes and colors longing to adorn the wrists and necks of visitors and locals alike. These works of art are each completely unique, as unique as the grains of sand from which they are gathered. Each one, once harboring a living being, now finding life again in the hands of skilled crafts people before making their way into the stores and beach side shops that dot the Banks. So, if you find yourself on the Banks (or if you can’t make it here, you can always find them in our store), and you’re looking for a way to connect yourself to this place, consider a sea shell. Millions of years in the making, yours for the price of a walk on the beach.