Date Thesis Awarded


Access Type

Honors Thesis -- Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelors of Arts (BA)




Jennifer Kahn

Committee Members

Martin Gallivan

Molly Swetnam-Burland


Shell is an important raw material in the Society Islands, especially for the manufacture of tools. In Polynesian archaeology, shell scrappers are a commonly recognized tool and are most often associated with vegetable peeling or scraping; however, ethnohistoric sources have described a wider range of activities for which shell scrapers were used, including in cloth manufacturing and as knives. Archaeological excavations on the islands of Mo’orea and Ra‘iātea recovered several potential Turbo shell scrapers from two Pre-Contact domestic lagoon sites. This study investigates whether these shells were used as scrapers and, if so, for what types of activities and on what kinds of materials. A survey of ethnohistoric sources written by European explorers and missions provided in order to develop a more holistic understanding of how Pacific Islanders employed shell in their daily lives. Microfossil analysis and preliminary use-wear analysis are utilized to determine if the shells have use-wear modifications and/or if the shell scrapers were associated with specific plant taxon. The final part of this study discusses several methodological problems encountered with the shell microfossil analysis and contributes more broadly to developing more accurate research designs for future Polynesian shell tool research.