Origin of the Pearl
March 18, 2009 by Sheryl Martinez
“This pearl has become my soul. . . . If I give it up, I shall lose my soul.”
And such was the pronouncement inspired by the Pearl, in John Steinbeck’s 1947 novel of the same title. No other kind of gem or jewelry in history has inspired unfailing desire and to this extent, whether in fiction or in real life. Through the centuries, it has been the subject of curiosity and served as the timeless muse among the greatest writers for many centuries. As the world’s oldest gem, one could scarcely imagine how much and how long pearls have stirred man’s imagination.
For the next 1,500 years after its discovery, ancient people have debated the gem’s origin. And for that long, they held inaccurate theories and, thereby, beliefs about how pearls are made. In Greece, they believed that pearls were made through water nymphs’ tears dropped inside an oyster. Europeans, on the other hand, long held the belief that oysters open up to receive the morning dew and as these dews were coated by oysters, it formed a pearl. It wasn’t until the native Americans disputed this belief that the world view on the origin of pearls was presented correctly. Since then, a pearl has been described as “a smooth, lustrous, variously colored deposit, chiefly calcium carbonate, formed around a grain of sand or other foreign matter in the shells of certain mollusks or shell as a gem”.
The appeal of the pearl has not diminished since the time of its first discovery between 4,000 B.C.-6,000 B.C. along the Persian gulf. Ancient Sanskrit sacred texts are filled with references to this ancient beauty. They went as far as to state that the god Krishna discovered the world’s first ever pearl. Even the Koran enthused that pearls shall be part of the Muslims reward in paradise. It was revered, admired and coveted by old civilizations; from the ancient Chinese, Indian, Egyptians, to the Romans and Greeks.
Because of its appearance, the Pearl has also become a symbol of purity, chastity and gentility. The ancient Greeks believed pearls as a symbol of love and marriage and has been traditionally given to a young bride.
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