Archaeomalacology, the study of mollusc shells from archaeological sites, is a discipline that started in Israel in the 1930’s. Over the last thirty years shells from archaeological sites have been studied extensively and today we can reconstruct many of the different uses of shells throughout the ages. Some of the earliest shell beads in the world were discovered in Israel, atSkhulCave in Mt.Carmel, and QafzehCave in the Galilee (Fig. 1). During prehistoric periods shells were used mostly as simple beads, but the people of the Natufian culture started using shells as raw material for producing an artifact: the disk bead (Fig. 2). In the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods long distance exchange of shells is apparent as shells are collected not only from the Mediterranean, but also from the Red Sea, the Nile river, and shells from Lake Kinneret were found as far as the Negev highlands.

From the Bronze Age onwards other artifacts are produced that have more utilitarian purposes (Fig. 3) and may have served as food, while in the mid second century BCE they are used also as construction materials and to produce purple dye. In the Iron age cowrie shells, known ethnographically for their use as amulets, may have served as shell money (Fig. 4). In classical and later periods shells are widely traded but their exact function is poorly known. Beyond the use of shells by humans in the past, shells occasionally serve for dating and environmental reconstruction. Future research should explore some poorly known periods, and can make more use of information based on isotopic studies to reconstruct past environments as well as long-distance exchange. Experimental studies on the production of shell artifacts can also contribute to a better evaluation of this medium.