A new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York is sure to dazzle anyone with an interest in treasures from the sea. The exhibit, Pearls, The Queen of Gems, displays numerous pearls from around the world and includes extensive histories that detail the varied ways humans have fought over these coveted gems. Christopher Columbus, for example, discovered rich pearl beds off Venezuela and promptly tore them out and shipped them back to Spain. The Atlantic pearl never fully recovered from his greed, but a few commercial pearl harvesters still eke out a living in this region of the Caribbean. Most common are the Indian Ocean and South Pacific pearls, which support a thriving industry.
The history of pearl gathering is as lurid and complex as any long-standing, international commercial venture, particularly so since it involved trading on the high seas. We learn, for example, that Julius Caesar likely invaded Britain in 55 B.C. because of his interest in capturing the freshwater pearl market. We also learn that Muslims associate pearls with completeness and perfection.
The exhibit runs through April 14, 2002. For more information, visit www.amnh.org.