Ancient Tridacna Gigantea Sells for $32,000 s at Tucson Gem Show

Volker Bassen sitting in giant clam shell

Volker Bassen sitting in giant clam shell

“Should I sit in the shell?” Volker Bassen asks. He is the shell’s owner, a tall Swedish man who does not, at first glance, appear as if he would fit inside a clam shell. He crawls under the protective rail that cordons off the exhibit from passersby, and gently lowers himself into the carapace.

This is Volker Bassen’s first year at the show, and he is here to sell clam shells. Bassen collects the shells in East Africa, where he lives, and auctions them off around the world to support a variety of nonprofit ventures back home. This shell, the biggest ever found, is a major attraction in Tucson.

Volker Bassen’s enormous shell is featured at JOGS, an exhibition that focuses on jewelry. Like many of the other vendors at the show, Bassen has traveled a long distance to be here. In Diani Beach, Kenya, he works as a scuba-diving instructor and giant-clam shell collector. But these two vocations are not as closely related as one would think. None of the clam shells that Bassen collects are discovered underwater. They are found on land, in limestone quarries, which are ancient coral reefs. This particular shell was given to Bassen as a gift, by a local Digo chief, to commemorate the birth of his son.

Also known as Tridacna Gigantea, these extinct giant clams are the predecessors of Tridacna Gigas, the world’s largest living clams, which can be found in and around the South China Sea. According to Bassen, Tridacna Gigantea became extinct 180,000 years ago, when a glacier cracked open and released a huge store of water. Sea levels rose to a point that the clams, which lived in symbiosis with an alga, were no longer able to access energy from the sun, and died out. This particular clam weighed approximately 800 pounds.

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