The use of Spondylus ornaments by European Neolithic cultures is well known, and is one of the characteristics tracking the spread of the Neolithic into Europe. A new study has looked at late Neolithic Hungary, to track the origin of these ornaments, confirming that they did indeed come from the Mediterranean (Adriatic or Aegean), and not the Black Sea or fossil shells from the Carpathian Basin.
Given the evidence that late Neolithic European farmers, even as far north as Sweden were indeed of Mediterranean origin, their continued use of these ornaments possibly reflects a tradition going back to their origins in the Aegean, rather than simply a fashion that spread simply for its decorative properties.
Journal of Archaeological Science, doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.09.022
Tracing the source of Late Neolithic Spondylus shell ornaments by stable isotope geochemistry and cathodoluminescence microscopy
Bernadett Bajnoczi et al.
Determination of the source of Spondylus objects is essential for the interpretation of Late Neolithic exchange systems and the social role of shell ornaments. We performed stable isotope analysis combined with cathodoluminescence microscopy study on ornaments (beads, bracelets) made of Spondylus shells excavated at the Aszod-Papi foldek archaeological site in Hungary, to define their origin. For comparison Spondylus finds from Neolithic sites of Greece, modern Spondylus shells from the Aegean and the Adriatic, as well as fossil Spondylus and Ostrea shells from the Carpathian Basin were also examined. Oxygen isotope composition of Spondylus finds from Aszod ranges between -1.9 and 2.1 ‰ and overlaps with the oxygen isotope range of shell objects from other Neolithic sites. Modern Spondylus shells from the Aegean and the Adriatic show overlapping δ18O values with one another and with the Neolithic objects; while recent shells of the Black Sea clearly are separate isotopically from the Mediterranean ones and most of archaeological artefacts. Spondylus shells from the Aszod site have Mediterranean origin; their source can be the Aegean or the Adriatic. Based on a former strontium isotope study the use of fossil Spondylus shells is excluded as raw material used for ornaments, however, in recent years the use of fossil shells was reintroduced. The shell ornaments from Aszod-Papi foldek and the fossil oyster shells collected from the Carpathian Basin exhibit some overlapping oxygen isotope values; however, cathodoluminescence microscopy indicates that the Spondylus objects retained their original aragonite material. Diagenetic calcite, which occurs typically in the fossil shells, was not detected in the ornaments suggesting that the studied objects were made of recent shells. Calcitic parts observed in some Spondylus objects are not related to fossilisation.