White chalky earth from Bethlehem, Palestine, 1920-1930

Made:
1920-1930
maker:
Unknown
Left hand side, A669205 - Cake of chalky earth, to increase milk flow, from Bethlehem, Palestine, 1920-1930. Right hand SMG00167039

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Left hand side, A669205 - Cake of chalky earth, to increase milk flow, from Bethlehem, Palestine, 1920-1930. Right hand
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum, London

SMG00167039
Science Museum Group
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Cake of chalky earth, to increase milk flow, from Bethlehem, Palestine, 1920-1930

This tablet of white chalky earth from the Milk Grotto in the holy city of Bethlehem was intended to be eaten. The eating of earth sounds unusual but is by no means uncommon and has a long history. Sometimes eaten in times of desperate famine, earth eating (known as geophagy) is particularly associated with pregnant and nursing women. Pregnancy and lactation require a higher nutritional intake. In areas where the diet is traditionally poor, cravings for additional nutrition can be assisted by eating clay tablets which can contain a range of essential elements, such as potassium, zinc and magnesium.

That this clay was said to come from the site where Christians believe the Virgin Mary stopped to breastfeed Jesus as they fled to Egypt would have given it a special significance. It may well have been brought back from a religious pilgrimage. The earth is shown here with a similar example (A669204).