Conch shells have maintained, through the years, a source of
endless fascination for me. I have collected them, polished and given as tokens
to friends, and I have collected them, in various sizes and states of beauty,
since I arrived in the Caribbean two decades ago. Therefore, it was a real
discovery when I came upon the gigantic Conch Shell Island that exists on one
of the shores of Anegada recently while out for a dinghy ride among the reefs.
What a find – there are thousands of conch shells piled up, one on top of
another, discarded, after their meat was taken, into a pile that grew into an
island through the 20th century.
The graceful conch shell is said to be of a
perfect 1.618 proportion, beautiful and beguiling, and I am told that the
construction of the shell itself appears to involve a high degree of expert
masonry. The structure of the conch shell is currently being studied for
aerospace and computer industry applications. The calcium (actually aragonite)
is woven by the growth of the mollusk inside of it into a
“brick-and-mortar-like micro-architecture” that is 1,000 times stronger than
simple previously used aragonite-like ceramics.
In reality, the conch shell starts out as
the home for what is basically a big snail. These intelligent gastropods travel
in schools and are suspicious of fishermen. With two eyes on long “gelatinous”
stalks peering out into the world, they slowly feed on the ocean floor while,
at the same time, growing shells that curve in a proportion identical to spiral
galaxies in our universe. Classified as those that turn to the left and
those that turn to the right, shells that spiral in clockwise directions are
said to symbolize the expansion of infinite
space and the celestial motion of the sun, moon, planets and stars
across the heavens – there’s a little
new age physics for you!
The conch shell
was a vessel for precious oils and medicines in the Indus Valley civilization
more than 4,000 years ago. Conch Shell jewelry has been recently found at
Mehergarth, the ruins of a 9,000 year old settlement, the oldest human
settlement found to date, in Pakistan. In Tibet, the conch shell is used in
Buddhist rituals, both blown and as a receptacle for holy water.
In India the sound of the conch is associated
with the sacred syllable AUM, the first sound of creation. In fact,
India itself looks like the shape of a conch shell on the map.
The conch has also been widely blown in the