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).
- Ethnography and Folk Medicine
- Object Number:
- terra sigillata earth, ethnography (palestine), pharmacy (materia medica), earth, ethnography (palestine), pharmacy (materia medica), terra sigillata
Cite this page
We encourage the use and reuse of our collection data.
Data in the title, made, maker and details fields are released under Creative Commons Zero
Descriptions and all other text content are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence
Download catalogue entry as json
Download manifest IIIF
Our records are constantly being enhanced and improved, but please note that we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any information shown on this website.