This object is on permanent display in the South Florida People & Environments exhibit, located inside the “Calusa Leader’s House” in the “Body Decoration” case.


Shell with Pigment
From Collier Co., Florida
Dates to ~AD 700-1500


South Florida Archaeology


This little shell is an example of a mundane object that is nevertheless fascinating. It’s a Sunray Venus shell, just like you’d find on a Florida beach, but if you look closely, you’ll see marks of a paint brush from when the shell was used as a paint palette. They probably made their brushes from palmetto stems, soaked or chewed on the ends to make them pliable.

Historical records tell us that the Indian people of Southwest Florida painted themselves regularly, often in black, red and white, and that the main leader painted himself black every day in reverence for the spirit world. We also know that these people were excellent painters, so they obviously needed paint brushes.

This clam-shell paint palette is an example of what archaeologists call an “expedient” tool, meaning an object that is casually used, maybe just once or twice, and then discarded.

Bill Marquardt
Curator, South Florida Archaeology & Ethnography*
Director, Randell Research Center*
Florida Museum of Natural History


On display Sept. 23, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018, Rare, Beautiful & Fascinating: 100 Years @FloridaMuseum celebrated the Museum’s rich history. Each Museum collection was asked to contribute its most interesting items and share the stories that make them special. Though the physical exhibit is closed, this companion website remains online, providing an opportunity to experience the Florida Museum’s most treasured specimens.

Exhibit Area: Always on Display

Cover of the All Things Beautiful bookWant to see more? Explore more than 300 breathtaking color photos of plants, animals, fossils and cultural heritage materials from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s collections in the award-winning book All Things Beautiful available from the University Press of Florida.

*This title was accurate at the time the exhibit was on display in 2017. Please visit the collection website to verify current staff and student information.

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