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Cypraea moneta

Cowrie shells appear as items of value and ceremony in the far western inland of China during the Neolithic era. Use became widespread during the Shang (c. 1766-1154 BC) and Zhou Dynasties and ended with the rise of bronze money in the Qin and Han Dynasties. The area where they were was used was almost exclusively to the north of the Yangtze River, with few discoveries south.


Shang Dynasty Cowries - The cowrie shell has been used as money in China during the Shang (sixteenth to eleventh centuries BC) and Zhou (eleventh century to 221 BC) dynasties. Inscriptions note 'gifts of cowries' and "cowries in the treasury". When the supply of natural cowrie shells from the coast didn't' meet demand, people made imitation cowries out of bone, stone, clay, bronze, and other materials.


There are inscriptions referencing cowries and they have been discovered in large quantities (thousands) in tombs. Cowries were imitated in bone, jade and bronze. Two species are most commonly found: Monetaria annulus (Cypraea annulus) and Monetaria moneta (Cypraea moneta).


These are natural shell cowries that date from the Shang dynasty. David Harthill lists 1.1 "cowrie shell with back filed off".


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