|chank shell ornaments|
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Yes, the ritual symbols and practices are important, of course, but we shouldn't ever forget the sheer pleasure in the shells themselves. From very early on, people in southeast Asian cultures were using them for personal adornment. I'll attach a couple of examples of a bangle and an ear ring that were found in a neolithic site about 4.000 years old near Lopburi in Central Thailand.
I think the structure of the shell in cross-section connects with an essential human attraction to spiral patterns. The spiral leads you deeper into the centre, or out to infinity; or it can connect to an adjoining spiral and lead you back into the centre again - which we find in the patterned borders of Ban Chiang bronzes.
Which came first, the ornament or the ritual object? I don't think we know for sure, but in a neighbouring grave at the Lopburi site a pair of intact calcified chank shells were found, so maybe by that time already they were being valued for more than their decorative qualities.