optic lobe


Spondylus is a genus of bivalve mollusks, the only genus in the family Spondylidae. As well as being the systematic name, Spondylus is the most often used common name for these animals, though they are also known as thorny oysters or spiny oysters.

There are many species of Spondylus, and they vary considerably in appearance and range. They are grouped in the same superfamily as the scallops, but like the true oysters (family Ostreidae) they cement themselves to rocks, rather than attaching themselves by a byssus. Their key characteristic is that the two parts of their shells are hinged together with a ball and socket type of hinge, rather than a toothed hinge as is more common in other bivalves.

Spondylus have multiple eyes around the edges of the shell, and they have a relatively well developed nervous system. Their nervous ganglia are concentrated in the visceral region, with recognisable optic lobes, connected to the eyes.

Spondylus shells are much sought after by collectors, and there is a lively commercial market in them.


Archaeological evidence shows that people in Neolithic Europe were trading the shells of Spondylus gaederopus to make bangles and other ornaments as long as 5,000 years ago (Varna necropolis). The shells were harvested from the Aegean Sea but were transported far into the centre of the continent. In the LBK and Lengyel culture, Spondylus shells from the Aegean Sea were worked into bracelets and belt-buckles.

Spondylus princeps are also found off the coast of Ecuador, and have been important to Andean peoples since pre-Columbian times, serving as offerings to the Pachamama as well as some kind of currency. In fact much like in Europe the Spondylus shells also reached far and wide as pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian peoples traded them with peoples as far north as present-day Mexico and as far south as the central Andes. The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and the sea and often depicted Spondylus shells in their art.



External links


A full and constantly updated bibliography on Spondylus sp. concerning Aegean, Balkan, European and American contexts is available at the blog-based forum of spondylus wordpress com

Pre-Hispanic trade in Spondylus seashells

  • Shimada, Izumi. “Evolution of Andean Diversity: Regional Formations (500 B.C.E-C.E. 600). The Cambridge History of the Native People of the Americas. Vol. III, pt. 1. Ed. Frank Salomon & Stuart B. Schwartz. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999: 350-517, esp. "Mesoamerican-Northwest South American Connections", pp. 430-436.

Prehistoric Europe

  • Paul Halstead, Spondylus shell ornaments from late Neolithic Dimini, Greece: specialized manufacture or unequal accumulation? Antiquity 67 (Nr 256), 603–609.
  • J. SHACKLETON/H. ELDERFIELD, Strontium isotope dating of the source of Neolithic European Spondylus shell artefacts, Antiquity 64, 1993, 312-315.
  • N. SHACKLETON/C. RENFREW. 1970. Neolithic trade routes realigned by oxygen isotope analyses, Nature 228: 1970, 1062-5.
  • Slavomir VENCL, Spondylove šperky v podunajskem Neolitů, Archeologicke Rozhledy 9, 1959, 699-742.
  • VLADIMÍR PODBORSKÝ (Hrsg.) Dvĕpohřebištĕ Neolitického lidu s Lineární Keramikou ve Vedrovicích na Moravĕ (Brno, Masarykovy University Philosophy Faculty Dept. of Archaeology and Museology 2002).
  • J. RODDEN, The Spondylus-shell trade and the beginnings of the Vinča culture, Actes du VIIe Congres International des Sciences Prehistoriques et Protohistoriques: 411-413 (Praha: Akademia Nauk 1970).
  • M. L. Séfèriadès, Spondylus gaederopus: some observations on the earliest European long distance exchange system. In: Hiller, S. and Nikolov, V. (Hrsg.), Karanovo III: Beiträge zum Neolithikum in Südosteuropa. Wien, Phoibos Verlag 2000) 423-437.
  • Henrietta Todorova, Die Spondylus-Problematik heute. In: Hiller, S. and Nikolov, V. (Hrsg.), Karanovo III: Beiträge zum Neolithikum in Südosteuropa (Wien, Phoibos Verlag 2000) 415-422.
  • Vencl, S., 1959. Spondylový šperky v pondunajkem Neolitu. Archeologické rozhledy 9, 1959.

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