MAN and SHELLS: Molluscs in the History

Pearls and mother-of-pearl

Author(s): Riccardo Cattaneo-Vietti, Mauro Doneddu and Egidio Trainito

Pp: 119-148 (30)

DOI: 10.2174/9781681082257116010011

* (Excluding Mailing and Handling)


The pearl, a rare product of some marine and freshwater bivalves and gastropods, has been considered a talisman of fecundity, and become symbol of perfection and absolute purity in many cultures. Greek symbol of love, the pearl also took several religious significances, and remain one of the principal orna-ments of the crowns of many royal houses.

The pearl is linked to love, but at the same time, to pain: this is a concept still present in the collective imagination and according to popular belief, pearls lead not only love, but also tears for their owners.

The most famous pearls, but not always those with the greatest value, are due to different species of pearl oysters, living in the Red Sea and Western Indian Ocean as well as in Australia, and Central America. The areas of great tradition for pearl fishing were the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, the Gulf of Mannar in South India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, and the Malay Peninsula.

With the discovery of the New World, pearls of great beauty were found in thwaters of the Gulf of Mexico and along the coast of Venezuela as well as in the Pacific Ocean, in particular, from Australia to French Polynesia and Philippines. In any part of the world the pearl fishing occurred, it has been a story of destruc-tion. Thediscovery of pearl banks in the tropics provoked, in fact, a kind of “gold rush” in a very short time, with a devastating exploitation not only of the banks themselves, but of the natives themselves.

Keywords: Abalones, Anodonta, calcite pearls, cameos, Cleopatra, cultured pearls, fake pearls, freshwater pearls, Haliotis, mabe, Margaritifera, Melo, Mikimoto, molluscs, mother-of-pear, nacre, pearls, pearl fisheries, Pearly Harvest Festival, Pearly Kings and Queens, Pinctada, Pseudanodonta, Pteria, Unio.

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