Shell horn

This large strombus or conch shell horn produces a very loud siren like sound when it is correctly blown. They were used up to the 19th century to call farm workers in from the fields for their breaks. One of them in Storiel’s collection of five was said to have used by a village bakery to let the villagers know that the oven was hot enough for bread to be baked.

Shells of sea snails, marine gastropod molluscs are often used as wind instruments as the shells of most of these are spirally coiled with a long, tapering tip. To prepare the shell for blowing, the sharp pointed part of the shell was sawn off and sanded to make a flat comfortable mouthpiece. In the same way as playing a trumpet, different pitched notes could be made depending on the skill of the player.

Shell horns like this are probably one of the oldest musical instruments made by humans. The oldest known surviving shell trumpet is 17,000 years old and was found in a cave with prehistoric wall paintings in France. A note can still be produced.

These large conch shells come from the Caribbean. They were brought back by ships on their return journeys from transporting enslaved Africans from the west coast of Africa to the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

There are some conch shell trumpets in Crossley-Holland’s collection of Mexican musical instruments held by the School of Music, Bangor University.