Walking through an old, overgrown cemetery, I encountered several graves that were decorated in seashells. Growing up in Florida, I’m accustomed to seashells as building materials. Yet these graves intrigued me. The reasons vary as to why people covered burial sites with shells.

Spanning from the late1800s-1910, some graves in the Southeastern United States were covered in seashells. Here are some of the more popular reasons for this:

  1. The scallop shell, or cockle shell, is an important symbol in Christianity. Today, it is tied to baptism; however, it also signifies the pilgrimage one makes through life. It also represents the resurrection. Graves covered in scallops or any other clam shell may signify the act of crossing over into Heaven.
  2. African American tradition tells of seashells representing the oceans slaves crossed to America. Placing shells upon the grave signifies the figurative act of going home after death.
  3. Seashells were a cheap alternative in burying people. They were readily available in coastal communities. However, the practice of covering a grave with shells was not limited to these communities. Shells were used in transporting fish inland. They were also a by-product of eating mollusks.
  4. Seashells were also used to protect the grave from eroding. The shells weighed down the sand and dirt, thereby keeping the grave from being exposed after heavy rain.