Dress Ornament in the Form of a Nautilus Shell



Dress Ornament in the Form of a Nautilus Shell




ca. 14th Century BC


Late Minoan IIIa


7/8 x 1in. (2.2 x 2.5 cm.)

Object Number



The almost complete lack of surviving textiles from the ancient world probably represents archaeology's single greatest loss. Their prime importance, however, is made absolutely clear in literature and in their representations in art. The palace accounts for the Minoan palace at Knossos (Linear B tablets) reveal that as many as 100,000 sheep were farmed under close control of the palace in outlying villages. Every year, these communities would supply to the palace specified quantities of woven cloth or unworked wool by way of tribute. Some of this was intended for domestic consumption, for example the uniforms of palace employees. Egyptian representations of Minoans carrying bolts of cloth show that some was destined for export abroad, whether as diplomatic gifts or for exchange in trade.

The Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos record that fabrics were made both from wool and (at Pylos) from flax (linen) of various kinds. Sometimes, garments were further adorned with gold sequins. These could be arranged in a row, as a border, or, if fewer were available, given a place of prominence.

Here, the sequin takes the form of a nautilus shell, or Argonaut. Five small holes around the edge enabled it to be stitched to a garment. This cephalopod mollusk, related to the octopus, was thought in antiquity to voyage across the sea by extending its tentacles as a sail. The subject is a favorite of Mycenean and Minoan artists; it recurs on some later Mycenean glass beads in the Museum, 2004.17.5-8. The nautilus can, therefore, be understood as a symbol for enterprising sailors on whom in many ways the Cretan economy and understanding of the world around them were based. Nowhere exerted a greater influence on Minoan Crete than Egpyt, an influence also reflected on a second sequin, 2005.33.2. Gold dress ornaments continued to be made in much later, classical times, as, for instance 2003.8.10-18.

Credit Line

Anonymous gift


From Pharaohs to Emperors: New Egyptian and Classical Antiquities at Emory, Michael C. Carlos Museum, January 14 - April 2, 2006|
Monsters, Demons & Winged Beasts: Composite Creatures in the Ancient World, Michael C. Carlos Museum, February 5 - June 19, 2011|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, September 2013 - June 19, 2014|
MCCM Permanent Collection Reinstallation, July 2014 - Present


© Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University. Photo by Bruce M. White, 2005.
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“Dress Ornament in the Form of a Nautilus Shell,” Michael C. Carlos Museum Collections Online, accessed December 16, 2018, http://carlos.digitalscholarship.emory.edu/items/show/8482.

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