What if simple rocks were believed to be priceless jewels?
Humans are fascinating. We name things and measure them against each other, we compare and categorize. Without our perception and assessment of things, gold and pearls and diamonds would not have any particular significance. Notice that modern language is not necessary in order to categorize objects in terms of value. It is truly a matter of appearance and rarity. Mythology plays its part also.
Ancient civilizations valued gold and pearls though they lacked the scientific equipment to fully analyze and understand why these elements, so to speak, have such presence and inspire such awe. Perhaps they simply sensed this. Or they are indeed inherently awe inspiring.
Take the pearl, for example. No scientific measurement was required to figure out that it was the result of a grain of salt slipping into a mollusk’s shell. The ensuing pearl is merely a substance the animal secretes in order to protect its soft body from the sharp-edged intruder. Perhaps pearls are rare not only because very few grains of sand intrude upon the shell-bound creature. What if some oysters figured out a way to expel the sand, or at the very least do so accidentally?
Nevertheless, because of its perfection and the incredible odds of its existence, and also the peculiar way in which it comes into being, the pearl is revered as a gem amongst gems; perhaps the gem of gems.
Pearls are composed mainly of calcium carbonate. In other words, they are an effective anti-acid. The Egyptians knew this, somehow, perhaps from trial and error experiments. They commonly crushed pearls, and the powder was ingested and believed to cure many ills. We now know that soothing the stomach is about all that a pearl is capable of doing, but given the fact that any number of ailments can upset digestion, the relief might make it seem as though the actual cause of the problem was cured as well. Some pearls were ingested whole also.
Let’s digest this with another fascinating oddity. Earlier today, we posted Teresa’s sterling silver cow mask brooch/pendant on our Facebook page. Lapis lazuli were used for the eyes. This is another stunning gem that was crushed for the use of its powder, this time not to alleviate a physical ailment, but to make paint.
In the 14th century, artists who were commissioned to produce their art on the walls of sacred buildings crushed lapis lazuli and mixed it with oils to create what was then called the “blue gold” used in such masterpieces. It is said that this rich pigment was used well into the 16th century, when Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. At times during history, “blue gold” was more expensive than gold itself.
Until the next oddities to strike our fancy…
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