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Mother-of-pearl tokens from Bethlehem

These four oval discs or tokens are probably from Bethlehem. They are made of nacre, the irridescent inner layer of some shells which is also known as mother-of-pearl. Each token has an inscribed design and two small holes on each edge, suggesting they were designed to be attached or sewn to something. The tokens feature designs including decorative borders, images of crosses and nativity stars, and the inscriptions 'DE BETLEM' and 'DE JEUSALEM'.

The inscriptions probably refer to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and the imagery of crosses and nativity stars suggests that these are Christian religious tokens. Bethlehem has a long history of craftwork in mother-of-pearl, from simple tokens such as these to intricate models of churches and mosques. These tokens were probably made for tourists or pilgrims to Bethlehem or Jerusalem.

Museum object number REDMG : 1973.68.1

See related topic: World Collection: Belief

See related topic: World Collection: Ornamentation

'Mother-of-pearl: an art and a source of economic sustenance', an article from the Turathuna Center for Palestinian Heritage at Bethlehem University.