White chalky earth 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…