Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cowrie shell eyes in Hoabinhian burial

The following abstract of a burial find at a Hoabinhian site in Vietnam is of particular interest because of the practice of placing cowrie shells of the eye sockets of the dead.

I've mentioned before that the plastered skulls found in Catalhoyok and Jericho, apparently ancestor skulls, had cowrie shell eyes.

In Borneo, the Dayaks and other peoples embalmed the skulls of ancestors and also trophy skulls and placed cowries in the eye sockets. Various peoples in Papua New Guinea made ancestor masks or modeled skulls with cowrie shell eyes.

We also find in different parts of Oceania and Africa the practice of making sculpted deities with cowries for eyes.

Additionally a few Ancient Egyptian mummies have this same feature.

The complex form of the Chinese word mei "buy" consists of the character mu "eye" written horizontally over bei "shell" representing the cowrie shell, the oldest form of Chinese money.

In various African languages, the word for cowrie also means "eye" as in the Ashanti word niwa.

Anthropol Anz. 2007 Jun;65(2):129-35.

Unique burial practice by ancient cavemen of the Hoa Binh
civilization in Vietnam.
Cuong NL.

Institute of Archaeology, Vietnamese Academy of Social Sciences,
Hanoi, Vietnam.

The discovery of a female skeleton is reported, which can be
ascribed to the Hoa Binh civilization, existing about 10,000 years
before now. The most remarkable fact concerning this finding is the
existence of seashells (Cyprea arabica), which were found in the eye
sockets. The reasons for this in Southeast Asia so far unique burial
practice are discussed.

Paul Kekai Manansala