Button waste and religious souvenirs in the Holy Land, during the 19th and early 20th centuries

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Over 800 shell remains from the late Ottoman and British Mandate periods (1840-1940) in Israel were studied, so as to better understand the use of nacre in local art and craft. Virtually all remains were of the black-lip pearl shell Pinctada margaritifera, a bivalve of the Indo-Pacific. The assemblage from Jaffa differed from that of Jerusalem in the larger size and weight of its remains, in containing buttons and much button waste, and in having no broken beads, no inlay particles and no un-worked fragments. The nature of the shell assemblage, the archaeological context, and the historical record, all indicate that there was no button factory and no inlay workshop in Jaffa. Jaffa served as a port through which shell waste, imported from the mother-of-pearl button industry which then thrived in Europe, reached the Holy Land. From Jaffa it was transported to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, where the waste was cut down and then used as inlay, in the religious souvenir manufacture and trade. Eventually many souvenirs were transported back to Europe and elsewhere. A survey at Ramat Rachel revealed an as yet unknown workshop of mother-of-pearl inlay, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-145
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary International
StatePublished - 10 Dec 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA.


  • Archeological excavations
  • Inlay workshop
  • Mother-of-pearl
  • Ottoman period
  • Pinctada margaritifera
  • Shell button waste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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