January 11, 2022 Speaker: Michelle Calhoun


The lightning whelk is a sinistral (left)-coiling mollusk which can be found along the North American continental shelf from Cape Cod to the Yucatan peninsula. Whelk have morphological differences in their shells depending on their region of origin: Yucatan, the western Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Gulf coast, and the Atlantic. These differences and their implications on sourcing methods will be discussed.

Pre-Contact cultures utilized and traded the whelk’s shells throughout the eastern 2/3 of the United States, Mexico, and southern Canada. The whelk’s sinistral coils held a spiritual significance for many of these cultures, as movement to the left is seen as bringing the world into balance.

Michelle is a 2021 graduate of New College of Florida, who presented her undergraduate thesis research on the gastropod and columella tools from Snake Island, Florida, at our September 2020 meeting. She is now an independent researcher and has expanded her interests to studying the extent of whelk shell utilization throughout North America prior to Contact, and the sourcing of whelk artifact types.