Marine shell ornaments have several characteristics that make them significant for archaeological analysis. Made from a raw material valued by cultures throughout the world and imbued with water, life, health, and fertility symbolism, shell objects have functioned as prestige goods. Shell prestige goods circulated between individuals, groups, and societies and materialized interpersonal relationships, making them valuable for archaeologists shifting focus from objects to the people in past societies. Shell ornaments had multiple roles, including ornamentation, wealth, marking status, and as ritual paraphernalia, and had varying symbolic associations even within a society. The rich ethnographic literature on shell use provides a source for archaeological model building. Marine shell artifacts often moved between societies and across long distances, offering a way for archaeologists to explore regional relationships and the interactions between ancient societies. To do this requires using several scales of analysis to investigate archaeological residues of a system that includes marine shell ornaments, the social organization of their production and exchange, and the people who made, displayed, and circulated them.