Pre-Columbian cultures in Central America highly valued spondylus shell (spiny oyster) and production of spondylus shell beads and other goods were part of extensive trade networks. This is a complete spondylus drilled and carved disk shell bead from the Greater Nicoya culture. It was likely an applique sewn onto a cotton garment. It is still wearable and can even be incorporated into a unique piece of modern jewelry.
Spondylus shell was highly valued and important in jewelry and, as intact shells or components for ritual use, from Pre-Columbian to contemporary times. Although the thorny or spiny oyster, or spondylus is distributed worldwide in tropical waters, it had only been used significantly for jewelry in the Pre-Columbian American Southwest, West Mexico and in a number of cultures along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Peru.
The Greater Nicoya Pre-Columbian Culture prevailed in the area of Latin America comprising the far southwestern coastal region of Honduras, the far northwestern Pacific coastal region of Costa Rica and the Pacific side of coastal Nicaragua. This Indian culture thrived for many centuries before the first Spanish explorers made contact around 1500 A.D.. The people had no written language but spoke Nahuatl and had continual contact with the Aztec (Mexica) Indians of Central Mexico. The Gran Nicoya culture included many beautiful designs incorporating a variety of different mammals, reptiles and amphibians in effigy pieces. Their pottery is also known for complex glyph-like painted decorations. In the first 500 to 600 years A.D., resources became low as populations grew and warfare become increasingly evident. Tribes in this region practiced head-hunting and victim sacrifice in their warfare.