Sea History 179 - Summer 2022

Page 46

SEA HISTORY for kids

courtesy the wandering bull, llc

Each northern quahog has a unique white and purple pattern, which Native artisans for at least 4,000 years have shaped into pendants, beads, spoons, and tools. and waste materials. Since quahogs prefer warm, muddy, or sandy bottoms, they’re usually found in shallow bays along the coast and the mouths of rivers. Quahogs only live along the North American east coast and the shores along the Gulf of Mexico. Marine biologists identify two species: the northern quahog ranges from the Canadian Maritimes down to Florida, while the southern


quahog lives off Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico. The northern quahog’s shell is generally smooth on the outside and usually has that famous purple edging and swirls on the inside. The southern species has rough, more pronounced ridges on the outside of the shell, and its inner shell is usually entirely white. In 1758, Carl Linnaeus of Sweden coined for this particular clam the species name mercenaria. “Mercenaria” is from the Latin for wages or a hired worker. Linnaeus must have read about how beads made from this clam’s shell, “wampum,” had been used as a type of money. Unfortunately, this connection between the quahog clam, wampum, and currency has been oversimplified. To start, the word “wampum” is taken from an Algonquian word, wa” pa” piag, which meant specifically a string of shell beads that were only white. Colonists reduced the term to simply refer to all beads. More importantly, for Native American tribes in this part of the world, this clam is foremost a source of food and spiritual connection. Historically, Native people crafted quahog shells into scrapers to carve wooden boats and bowls, and into eating utensils, trowels, and even into tweezers. Beyond valuing quahogs for food and tools, Wampanaog and other Native American tribes used the shells to make beads and other forms of art. Oral histories and archaeological excavations reveal that Wampanoag ancestors and other Algonquin peoples have eaten quahogs and made beads from the shells for more than 4,000 years. The women in these coastal communities, especially during the centuries of

deirdre o’regan

Animals in Sea History by Richard J. King he quahog, a clam, has had a diverse role in human history, but it’s one that has often been misunderstood. Pronounced kō-hog—derived from the names common to Native American tribes of the region, like that of the Narragansett, who call the animal poquaûhog—this clam is a bivalve invertebrate with gills, a liver, a heart, and two oval shells connected with a thick hinge. Quahogs dig themselves just below the surface of the seabed, then they send up two straw-like tubes: one to inhale sea water for oxygen and microscopic plants, and the other to exhale that water

Quahogs are often served steamed with butter or as the main ingredient of clam chowder. European colonization, became the primary gatherers of shellfish to feed their families, as well as working as artisans to create wampum. When European settlers arrived, quahog beads began to serve as a convenient way to barter, a substitute for coins when trading, but this was only a late and very brief development in North American history. To create wampum, pieces of the shell are carefully broken, filed, and smoothed into tubular beads, then painstakingly drilled into each end of the bead to make the hole.

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