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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Cowry Shells: Fertility/Fecundity Symbols in Southern Calfiornia Iconography


Ornamental employment of Chestnut Cowry (Cypraea spadicea) shell artifacts in southern California prehistory included inlay work set into the rims of mortars and bowls. These and other observations are marshaled to develop circumstantial evidence pointing to a linkage of cowry shells with sex-based symbolism. More direct evidence from J. P. Harrington's notes connect the cowry symbolically to the vulva.

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