People in the past fashioned tools out of not just a variety of animal bones, but mussel shell as well. This complete right valve (shell) of a black sandshell (Ligumia recta) mussel from 2012 MVAC excavations beneath STH 35 in Onalaska, Wisconsin, is just one example. It was used for scooping, scraping, or digging, as shown by wear along the long edge opposite the hinge, where the left and right halves of the mussel shell would join. Damage is visible on the outside of the shell (top), as is flaking on the inside of the shell (bottom). This edge of the shell, given it came from a black sandshell, likely would have been razor-sharp initially.
Though not a common artifact for La Crosse area Oneota sites, similar modified and edge-damaged shells at Oneota sites along the Des Moines River in Iowa and to the west have been shown to have been used for shelling the kernels from ears of parboiled green corn. An extensive literature review and ethnographic studies by the late Dr. David Gradwohl found that a number of Native American tribes employed mussel shells in a rather elaborate process of preparing corn for immediate consumption or storage. Interestingly, at Iowa Oneota sites, the black sandshell was the preferred species used for the proposed corn shellers (see Gradwohl 1982:135–156). The black sandshell is not uncommon in large and medium rivers of the Midwest, including the Mississippi.
Gradwohl, David Mayer
1982 Shelling Corn in the Prairie-Plains: Archaeological Evidence and Ethnographic Parallels beyond the Pun. In Plains Indian Studies: A Collection of Essays in Honor of John C. Ewers and Waldo R. Wedel, edited by Douglas H. Ubelaker and Herman J. Viola, pp. 135–156. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology No. 30. Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC.