Skip to main content

Full text of "Geophagy"

See other formats

The person borrowing this material is re- 
sponsible for its renewal or return before 
the Latest Date stamped below. You may 
be charged a minimum fee of $75.00 for 
each non-returned or lost item. 

Theft, mutilation, or defacement of library materials can be 

causes for student disciplinary action. All materials owned by 
the University of Illinois library are the property of the Stat* 
of Illinois and are protected by Article 16B of Illinois Criminal 
Law and Procedure. 

TO RENEW, CALL (217) 333-8400. 
University of Illinois Library at Urbana-Champaign 

DEC 21 1999 

When renewing by phone, write new due date 
below previous due date. L162 

Field Museum of Natural History 

Founded by Marshall Field, 1893 

Publication 280 
Anthropological Series Volume XVIII, No. 2 




Berthold Laufer 





v. it 



Introduction 101 

China Ill 

Indo-China 127 

Malaysia and Polynesia 129 

Melanesia and Australia 136 

India, Burma, and Siam 140 

Central Asia and Siberia 144 

Persians and Arabs 150 

Africa 156 

Europe 163 

North America 170 

Mexico and Central America 178 

South America 185 

Bibliography 192 

Index 194 




The bibliography appended to this study may appear impressive 
at first sight, and a glance at it may even convey the impression as 
though a novel investigation of the subject were superfluous, but 
such an impression would be a delusion. The only really profound 
and serious research is represented by the fundamental work of 
Ehrenberg, which has unfortunately been forgotten or overlooked 
by the majority of those who have subsequently written on the 
subject. Ehrenberg, a geologist by profession, has studied and 
analyzed many hundreds of specimens of edible earths from all 
parts of the globe, and has had a wider and deeper knowledge of 
the subject than all his successors combined. Science does not 
always progress consistently in a straight line. Many articles cited 
in the bibliography are informative on special lines and useful, 
particularly the work of Hooper and Mann, which is important as 
far as India is concerned. The whole subject, however, is deserving 
of a new treatment in the light of fresh material and from the 
standpoint of the universal history of mankind. 

In this article is given for the first time a correct exposition 
of the facts concerning geophagy, as revealed by Chinese records 
which are abundant. It will be noticed that these are very instruc- 
tive and contribute important material toward the evaluation of 
the whole question of geophagy. For this reason China opens this 
investigation. The days are gone when the discussion of a problem 
started with the Greeks and Romans whose importance in the 
history of civilization is not much greater than and in many respects 
inferior to that of the Asiatic nations. Next to China the relevant 
conditions in Indo-China, Malaysia and Polynesia, Melanesia and 
Australia, India, Burma, and Siam, Central Asia and Siberia, 
among Persians and Arabs, in Africa, Europe, and America will 
be reviewed and discussed. In all these sections a great many new 
data unknown to previous investigators will be found. America 
especially has never before been adequately treated. 

Geophagy is a convenient term which comprises a series of most 
varied phenomena resulting from entirely different causes and 
moving along different psychological lines. 


102 Geophagy 

In regard to the various earths and clays used by mankind 
Ehrenberg's work gives the best possible information, and any 
new geological and chemical researches should continue where he 
left his task. As a rule, not every kind of earth is eaten, but only 
those kinds which recommend themselves through certain qualities, 
such as color, odor, flavor, softness, and plasticity. The most impor- 
tant from the standpoint of edibility is what is called diatomaceous 
earth or kieselguhr, popularly known as "mountain meal" or 
"fossil meal" (in Chinese "stone meal" or "earth-rice"), which is 
a very light, porous earth resembling chalk or clay and consisting 
of the siliceous remains of very minute aquatic organisms or diatoms 
in several thousand varieties (hence, also styled "infusorial earth"). 
It varies in color from white to different shades of gray to black. 
Earths used as medicines or for enjoyment are almost without 
exception fine, fat, and usually ferruginous clays. They are con- 
sumed either in their natural state or lightly baked. Diatomaceous 
earth is at present of great industrial importance (cf . N. Goodwin, 
Diatomaceous Earth, Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering, 1920, 
pp. 1158-1160; R. B. Ladoo, Non-metallic Minerals, 1925, p. 190). 

Geophagy has been characterized by previous authors as an 
"evil" or a "vice," while others have qualified it with such attributes 
as "disgusting" or "depraved appetite." Such characterizations are 
subjective and meaningless, and do not help us in understanding 
the phenomenon. Man, at the outset, will taste and test every- 
thing offered to him by nature; and consuming earth, mud, or clay 
is no more surprising than eating salt, pepper, bark, insects, snakes, 
or monkeys, or chewing gum, coca leaves, betel, or tobacco. 

Earth or clay is nowhere used as an ordinary and regular article 
of diet, on a par with vegetal and animal food-stuffs; as it essentially 
consists of inorganic matter, it is naturally indigestible. It was 
used, however, and may still be used by many peoples in times 
of scarcity and famine as a food substitute to allay the pangs of 
hunger, giving as it does a sensation of fullness to the stomach; 
as a sort of condiment or relish, usually in combination with articles 
of food; mixed with acrid tubers or acorns as a corrective of taste; 
as a dainty or delicacy for its own sake; as a remedy for certain 
diseases; as a part of religious rites and ceremonies. These are the 
normal applications of clay and earth. There is, further, an abnormal 
or morbid use produced by or accompanying certain diseases, or 
due to nervous conditions. 

Introduction 103 

Most writers have indulged in the sweeping assertion that 
geophagy is a universal phenomenon and was practised in times 
of antiquity. Neither of these statements is true. Generalization is 
the worst of all setbacks in scientific research and unfortunately 
an only too common sin in ethnological studies. This or that custom 
is observed in a single or a few individuals or in a single settlement, 
and it is at once fastened on the whole community or tribe or 
country. A traveler may have seen a certain person lick or chew 
a bit of earth, and the nation to which this individual belongs will 
go down in history as one of geophagists. Lasch (p. 216) asserts 
that earth-eating is exceedingly diffused over Africa, but this 
notion of a wide diffusion is merely fortified by a total of seven 
references. What is needed in ethnology is application of statistical 
methods or judicious restriction to really observed cases. Geophagy 
is not universal; it is unknown, for example, in Japan ancient and 
modern, Korea, Polynesia excepting New Zealand (while it occurs 
in Malaysia and Melanesia), Madagascar, as well as in many parts 
of Africa and Europe, and in the southern part of South America. 
It was likewise unknown in ancient Egypt and Babylonia as well 
as among the ancient Semites in general. It was equally foreign 
to the Greeks and Romans of classical times, while in the Hellenistic 
period the use of clay was confined to that of a medicine; neither 
Greeks nor Romans were geophagists. In China, Indo-China, India, 
and Persia earth-eating was practised to a certain extent, and is 
still widely practised in India and Persia, but in none of these 
countries is there an ancient record of this custom preserved; at 
least I have found none that would antedate our era. Maybe, this 
is fortuitous; maybe, it is not; the coincidence of the lack of ancient 
records in all great civilizations of Asia, at any rate, is suggestive. 

While geophagy is not a universal phenomenon, yet it occurs 
sporadically almost anywhere. It has nothing to do with climate, 
race, creed, culture areas, or a higher or lesser degree of culture. 
It is found among the most civilized nations, even in our own 
midst, as well as among primitive tribes. It occurs in the Old and 
New Worlds alike. On the other hand, the habit is not general 
in any particular tribal or social group, and none can positively be 
labeled with a clear distinction as geophagists or non-geophagists. 
There are individuals who eat earth, and there are other members 
of the same tribe who abstain from it and even disapprove of the 
habit or may even see fit to dissuade their countrymen from indulg- 
ing in it. In other words, the habit is more or less individual, not 

104 Geophagy 

typically tribal; and this is exactly the point which has aroused my 
interest in the subject. We are wont to look upon the life and 
thoughts of a primitive people as something typical and collective, 
as a standard adopted and followed by all members of the com- 
munity. This in general is true, but there are also features in 
primitive cultures which are left to individual decision and which 
require careful study. One of these is geophagy, the causes of 
which lie chiefly in the physical and mental constitution of the 
individual. Imitation, as in all human habits, has, of course, been 
a powerful factor in contributing toward the expansion of the 
custom. It could not have been diffused so widely all over India 
in all classes of the population unless by contamination of example. 
Again, if women during the period of pregnancy are especially 
devoted to clay-eating in a continuous area — Persia, India, Malaysia, 
and Melanesia — while this is not the case in China, Indo-China, 
Europe, and America, we must believe in an historical dissemination 
over the aforementioned area. In other words — while, on the one 
hand, geophagy may spring up anywhere spontaneously and inde- 
pendently, it has, on the other hand, assumed certain forms which 
can be explained only through contact and diffusion. 

Clay-eating, consequently, cannot be interpreted as a racial 
characteristic or as a peculiar trait of this or that group of peoples, 
as has been done by Sarat Chandra Mitra, who expressed the opin- 
ion, "It seems that the use of clay for food is more confined to the 
Indian branch of the Aryan race, some Dravidian races and the 
various peoples belonging to the Mongolian stock, than to any 
other offshoot of the Aryan family or to any other race." This 
conclusion has also been antagonized by Hooper and Mann. In 
fact, the custom is not more characteristic of one tribe than of the 
other and pervades all classes of Indian society without distinction. 

Clay-eating is not exclusively a poor man's habit either. In 
the Panjab "the very rich and the very poor are not free from it" 
(Hooper and Mann, p. 253). In Assam "the best working classes 
are affected by it" (ibid., p. 252). It is likewise as common in the 
cities of India as among the peasantry; it prevails among all castes, 
regardless of race and creed. 

There is a medical angle to this subject which is beyond the 
scope of this article. It has been suggested that geophagy is a 
symptom of ankylostomiasis and can be subdued together with 
this disease (H. Prowe, Zeitschrift fur Ethnologie, 1900, p. (354)). 
Which is the cause and which is the effect seems not to be certain. 

Introduction 105 

Certain it is that cases of ankylostomiasis do occur without being 
accompanied by geophagy; this disease, for instance, is widely 
diffused throughout China and Formosa (J. L. Maxwell, Diseases 
of China, pp. 174-182; G. Olpp, Beitrage zur Medizin in China, 
pp. 86-87), but neither Maxwell nor Olpp mentions any clay-eating 
on the part of patients. There is a disease known as cachexia 
africana, which is a disorder of the nutritive functions among 
Negroes and in certain kinds of disturbances of health among 
women, in which there is a morbid craving to eat clay (for details 
see p. 159). This so-called pathological geophagy is of limited 
interest to the ethnologist, but belongs properly to the domain 
of the physician. That inordinate and indiscriminate clay-eating 
is injurious to health and may lead to untimely death is obvious; 
even a Chinese author of the seventeenth century has plainly 
pointed it out. On the other hand, the perils of the indulgence 
have been overstated, and there is no doubt that occasional con- 
sumption of diatomaceous earth or a sprinkling of earth or clay 
over ordinary food is harmless. Again, the situation is not the 
same everywhere. In India, where the habit perhaps is more 
widely spread than in any other country and where it has developed 
into a veritable passion with many individuals, especially women, 
the appalling effects have grown proportionately. Here again, 
however, experiences recorded as to ill effects of clay-eating vary 
a great deal. One observer in India who made wide inquiries from 
women habitually eating clay was invariably informed that they 
experienced no ill effect whatever. Another correspondent who 
has known numerous instances of earth-addicts in Mysore reports 
that "the habit once contracted by women is rarely, if ever, aban- 
doned by them, and is invariably followed by fatal results" 
(Thurston, p. 553). 

"Reports are almost unanimous in stating that the habit when 
indulged in causes anaemia. Cases of intense anaemia are recorded 
with the history that the patients were perfectly well until they 
took to mud-eating. It is, however, almost certain that anaemia 
gives rise to the habit, and most probable that the habit is both 
the cause and the consequence of anaemia. Clay is eaten by people 
who are already anaemic, and the more they eat it, the more anaemic 
they become. 

"Earth-eaters are frequently troubled by worms, but whether 
they are caused by earth-eating, or their presence is a contributory 
cause of the habit, is not quite decided. The most general idea 

106 Geophagy 

among medical men who have had to deal with large numbers of 
cases is that anaemia accompanied by morbid gastric sensations 
is most often due to the commencement of the habit. The anaemia 
due to the ankylostoma worm is particularly accompanied by 
gastric cravings. Dr. Brooks says it may or may not cause 
ankylostomiasis of which anaemia is in his districts nearly always 
a symptom" (Hooper and Mann, p. 264). 

Clay-eating is seldom openly practised and does not belong to 
the obvious things lying at the surface that would come within 
the ordinary traveler's observation. Many natives feel that the 
habit displeases the white man and will keep it secret or are loath 
to talk about it. It is reported that the female coolies of the Cochin 
hills "seem to be ashamed of the habit and, if other people see them 
eating clay, try to hide it" (Thurston, p. 525). 

While the effects of geophagy are comparatively easy to recog- 
nize, it is more difficult to account for its causes. 

Deniker is inclined to ascribe the habit of eating earthy sub- 
stances to the need of supplying the deficiency of mineral substances 
(calcareous or alkaline salts), which induces the use of salt. F. W. 
Krickeberg (in Buschan, Vergl. Volkerkunde, I, 1922, p. 146) like- 
wise regards the craving for salt as the cause leading to geophagy. 

This theory is most improbable. In the first place, the clays 
consumed by man, as a rule, contain no salts, or if so, only a negli- 
gible quantity. Second, if Deniker's opinion were correct, we should 
justly expect that the maximum of clay-eating would be reached 
by people who command little or no salt and that with the growth 
of the salt supply the habit of clay-eating would proportionately 
decrease. This, however, is not the case. To cite but one example — 
the Iroquois and related tribes formerly did not make use of salt, 
but nothing is known about clay-eating on their part (cf. F. W. 
Waugh, Iroquois Foods and Food Preparation, pp. 150-153, Canada 
Geol. Survey, Memoir 86, 1916). The fact remains that all geo- 
phagists have access to salt, and probably more easily than to clay. 
Hooper and Mann (p. 263) point out that among children of India 
the salty nature of the ingredients of some earths is the recommenda- 
tion for their use, but add judiciously, "This, however, can be the 
reason in but few cases of the habit." In another passage (p. 258) 
they dissociate completely the use of salt earths from the habit of 
earth-eating, contending that the use of the former can only be 
referred to as occurring commonly in districts where salt is expensive. 
In India, accordingly, earth-eating and the use of salt earth are 

Introduction 107 

two distinct and unrelated phenomena. The same is the case in 
China. In ancient China a great amount of salt was obtained from 
saline earth (J. O. von Buschman, Das Salz, II, 1906, pp. 4, 9; 
F. von Richthofen, China, I, 1877, p. 102), but such saline earth was 
never consumed, while other kinds of earth free from salt were 
eaten by the people. The same situation, again, is met with in some 
parts of Africa (Buschman, II, p. 278). A seeming exception occurs 
in South America. Brazil is very deficient in salt (Buschman, II, 
p. 413), and the Indians take recourse to various substitutes for 
salt in preparing their food, usually by burning saline plants and 
using the salty ashes; sometimes a reddish earth which has the 
appearance of salt ashes is resorted to for the same purpose. F. 
d'Azara, who traveled in South America from 1781 to 1801 (German 
translation by C. Weyland, 1810, p. 19), has some interesting notes 
on a salty clay (called by the Spaniards barrero) craved by the 
grazing cattle which cannot be kept away from it even by blows 
and which frequently feed on it to such an excess that they will die. 
A few travelers in South America report the consumption of salty 
clay on the part of Indians in lieu of salt, but the notes assembled 
in the chapter on South America (p. 184) demonstrate abundantly, 
that the widespread habit of eating non-salty clays throughout 
South America springs from causes which are entirely independent 
of the hunger for salt. 

H. Schurtz (Katechismus der Volkerkunde, 1893, p. 21) believes 
that the original object of earth-eating was to silence the hungry 
stomach for a short while with an indigestible morsel. 

Hooper and Mann (p. 270) are inclined to attribute the cause 
of geophagy "primarily to the purely mechanical effect it seems 
to have in comforting gastric or intestinal irritation. This may 
or may not be due to disease; if it is so due, the result is quickly 
to aggravate the disease it is taken to alleviate; if not, it rapidly 
produces effects which bring on disease. Gastric or similar irrita- 
tion is inseparable from certain periods in a woman's life, and these 
are precisely the periods when the earth-eating habit is contracted. 
Once indulged in, the wish for similar alleviation becomes a craving; 
and the habit, as is usually the case with similar ones, strengthens 
itself, and brings on disease of the digestive canal. In the cases 
where men indulge, probably the habit has some similar origin." 

The two last statements quoted assuredly contain some ele- 
ments of truth, but do not explain all the phenomena connected 
with geophagy, and a formula applicable to the subject in its entire 

108 Geophagy 

range can hardly be found, as geophagy appears in so many widely 
varying forms. It is best to emphasize a few specific cases. When 
we hear that the Porno Indians of California mix clay with acorn- 
meal, their staple food, we may at first be inclined to dismiss this 
case as an unusual or queer practice; but when we further read 
that exactly the same thing is done by the peasants of Sardinia, 
we pause and think. As an historical contact between the Porno 
and Sardinians is out of the question, the cause for this practice 
can only be physiological. The Zuni swallow a bit of white clay 
with the tubers of Solanum fendleri, and it has been suggested that 
this is done to counteract or reduce the acridity and astringency 
of the tuber; this explanation may be correct as far as it goes, 
although it remains unexplained why it is just clay that is resorted 
to as a corrective. This is a matter that awaits the investigation 
of a physiologist. 

Chemical analyses of edible clays are all right as far as they go, 
but are of no great utility to the ethnologist in understanding the 
problem. Moreover, most of the analyses made date a considerable 
time back when chemistry was not yet so perfected as it is at 
present, and when the usual conclusion of the investigators has 
been that the clays consumed by mankind contain neither nutritive 
nor medicinal properties. Maybe this is true, maybe it is but 
partially correct; but we need more solid and renewed information 
from a biochemist and physiologist, in the light of modern science, 
especially as to the effects of clays on the human organism. If 
these pages should have the good fortune to attract the attention 
of a biochemist and physiologist and to stimulate them to a fresh 
investigation of the problems involved, I should feel amply rewarded 
for the trouble and time I have taken in gathering this material 
from all parts of the world; but it must be studied comparatively. 
It cannot be fortuitous, for instance, that the identical phenomena 
appear in the most diverse regions and peoples, as the example of 
the Porno and Sardinians just mentioned, or the craving for the 
bucaro pottery made of a reddish, odoriferous clay on the part of 
Peruvian and Portuguese women alike. 

When we read again and again that to people living widely 
apart certain clays have an agreeable and spicy flavor and that 
they are attracted to them irresistibly and experience a pleasant 
and beneficial effect on their systems, we cannot simply brand such 
folks as maniacs, but there must be a physiological cause for such 

Introduction 109 

For the geophagy of the pregnant Lasch (p. 219) has tried to 
give an explanation which does not satisfy me. According to him, 
the stomach does not bear substances like earth and clay, which 
will result in more or less violent vomitings which will cause, 
especially during the last months of pregnancy, contractions of 
the uterus and may facilitate delivery. This is theoretical specula- 
tion, but is not based on really observed facts. None of the authors 
who reports the craving of the pregnant for clay (and this is chiefly 
the case in Melanesia, India, and certain parts of Africa) says a 
word about vomiting, while the majority of women addicted to 
clay-eating take it habitually, whether pregnant or not; it is only 
during the periods of menstruation and pregnancy that the habit 
appears more intensified. It is clear, moreover, that a woman 
would not enjoy clay-eating and continue the habit if it really 
operated as an emetic. It is curious that Lasch himself cites 
Modigliani, who refers to the clay eaten by the Toba-Batak of 
Sumatra, as saying that it has the property of stopping the vomit- 
ing of women during pregnancy — the opposite of his theory — and 
this is far more probable. The Greeks used the earth of Samos 
as a means of stopping the vomiting of blood (Dioscorides), and 
the Arabic pharmacologists recommended the clay of Nishapur as 
a good remedy to relieve or stop nausea and vomiting (L. Leclerc, 
Traite" des simples, II, p. 426). 

The craving for earth so universally displayed by infants and 
young children, even in our midst, is presumably not pathological, 
but is simply due to insufficient roughage or insufficient mineral 
matter in their regular diet, and to an instinctive desire for roughage, 
which is usually supplied by wheat bran, potato-skins, green vege- 
tables, and cereals. The case is known to me of a man (American) 
who for a few years swallowed two teaspoonfuls of white sand 
twice a day and declared that it kept him feeling fine in every 
respect; then he developed sarcoma of the intestine and died; 
whether the sarcoma was caused by his sand-eating habit has not 
been determined. 

Explanations given by natives for earth-eating must be taken, 
of course, with a grain of salt. How many of us are able, if the 
question were put to us unceremoniously, to give an intelligent 
answer as to why we use salt and have a more intense craving for 
salt at one time than another. The common explanation given by 
primitives is that they believe earth or clay is good for them, that 
it benefits the stomach and promotes digestion. Others are satisfied 

110 Geophagy 

with the notion that it has a pleasant odor and taste, that it tickles 
the palate and gratifies the stomach; others are merely attracted 
by the peculiar bright colors of some clays. 

It seems that in its origin geophagy is not allied with religious 
ideas, in particular, as one might think, with the worship of earth as 
a deity or the notion of mother-earth. China, as will be seen, 
affords the best example to this effect (p. 125). 

It is curious that tribes which make an extensive use of clays 
ceremonially, for instance, in body painting, do not take to eating 
it; for example, the Andamans (A. R. Brown, The Andaman 
Islanders, 1922, pp. 90, 99, 102, 106, 111, 122, etc.) and the 
Cheyenne (G. B. Grinnell, The Cheyenne Indians, 1923, II, 
pp. 235-236, 242). 

On the other hand, geophagy frequently enters into religious 
ceremonies, notably in ancient Mexico and among some Malayans, 
who consume earth in ordeals, or among the Chins of Burma and 
the Negroes of Barbados who swallow it in affirmation of an oath. 
In China, diatomaceous earth was regarded as being of super- 
natural origin, as the food of dragons and immortals; and the 
discovery of such earth was hailed as a happy omen, and its con- 
sumption could not fail to have a beneficial effect on the health and 
welfare of pious believers. 

Earth is also eaten by animals. Ehrenberg (II p. 19) mentions 
a case of earth-eating horses from Africa. Examples are known 
of wolves eating earth. Yet Wilken's theory (Handleiding van der 
vergel. volkenkunde van Ned.-Indie, p. 21), that man hit upon 
the idea of earth-eating in imitation of animals, is not convincing 
and must be rejected. The physiological causes driving both 
animal and man to earth-eating possibly are identical, and if so, 
the assumption of a mutual imitation is superfluous. 

I wish to express my thanks to Dr. S. A. Barrett, Mr. Elsdon 
Best, Mr. C. Daryll Forde, Mr. I. Lopatin, Mr. Marshall H. 
Saville, Dr. Frank G. Speck and Mr. J. Eric Thompson for specific 
information. Their contributions are quoted verbatim under their 
names and may be easily traced by consulting the index. 


As regards geophagy in China, three different ways of using 
earth must be distinguished: (1) the magical method of the Taoists, 
(2) the medicinal employment, (3) earth as a famine food. 

In European literature we meet only a few casual references 
to the subject with reference to China. As far as I know, Edouard 
Biot, who took a profound interest in all scientific questions, first 
called attention to this singular phenomenon. In his "Etudes 
sur les montagnes et les cavernes de la Chine, d'apres les geographies 
chinoises" (Journal asiatique, 1840, p. 290), he has the following 
observations: — 

"On Mount Lo-pao, department of Lin-ngan fu (Yun-nan), 
the mountain-people make the earth of this mountain into balls; 
it is fat and soft, and according to the text of the Kwang yii ki, 
they feed on it habitually." 

This translation, as will be seen presently, is not exact. The 
name of the mountain is Lo-jung $& 0k, not Lo-pao. Biot adds 
the remark, "This is a new example of the depravation of taste 
observed for the first time by de Humboldt among the Ottomac." 

The account of the Kwang yii ki, alluded to by Biot, which is a 
geographical description of China, is as follows: "Mount Lo-jung 
(or yung) ^ 0k iXl is south of the prefectural city (Lin-ngan fu 
Hi 55: $f in Yun-nan). The earth of this locality has a fine odor, 
and is made into cakes used for purposes of cauterizing. When 
cooked (or heated), it can be eaten. The women of the P'o Bf 
are fond of it." This text occurs in the original edition of the work, 
published in 1600 (chap. 21, p. 6b), as well as in the subsequent 
reprints of 1686 and 1744 (chap. 21, p. lib). The question is of 
an edible clay; but the point emphasized by Biot, that the people 
feed on it habitually, is not directly brought out by the text, while 
he makes no reference to the P'o tribe; and this is an important 
feature. It is, accordingly, not the Chinese, but an aboriginal 
tribe of T'ai stock, which indulges in the habit; and, again, it is 
especially their women, who have developed this appetite. A 
similar reference to an aboriginal tribe is made in the Nan chao 
ye shi: "When the Li-su suffer hunger, they swallow earth mixed 
with honey" (C. Sainson, Histoire particuliere du Nan-tchao, 
p. 181). 


112 Geophagy 

According to the King chou ki M W q£, written by Sheng 
Hung-chi # 3L £. in the fifth century A.D., there is in the district 
Wu-tang li ^ a ravine on the banks of which there is a clay of 
fresh-yellow color; also it is eatable (T'ai p'ing yii Ian, chap. 37, 
p. 8). It is not stated, however, that this clay was actually eaten, 
although this probably was the case. 

The Shen sien chuan # {ill fit attributed to Ko Hung of the 
fourth century, contains the following story: — 

"Wang Lie 3E JBl lived solitary in the T'ai-hang Mountains 
^C 4t Ul when all of a sudden he heard a crash on the east side 
of the mountain and the -earth rolling like thunder. Lie proceeded 
to find out what had happened. He noticed that the mountain 
was cracked, and that the rocks were split over a distance of a 
thousand feet. Both sides of the road were covered with green 
stones exhibiting holes more than a foot in diameter. These holes 
were filled with a green mud which flew out like marrow. Lie 
took a sample of this mud, examined it, and formed it into a pill. 
Instantaneously it became hard like stone, as if hot wax were 
formed, and hardened immediately. It had an odor like boiled 
rice; and when he chewed it, it also tasted like rice. Lie collected 
several such pills of the size of peaches. He took these along and 
returned to Ki Shu-ye %& $t T£, with the report that he had found 
a strange object. Shu-ye, very pleased, took one of the pills and 
examined it; it changed into a green stone, and when struck, gave 
a sound like copper. Shu-ye then went along with Lie to inspect 
the spot, but the mountain which was previously torn asunder 
had resumed its normal shape." 

There are several mountains bearing the above name — two 
in Shan-si (in P'ing-yang fu and Tse chou) and three in Ho-nan 
(in Chang-te fu, Wei-hui fu, and Hwai-k'ing fu). As follows from 
a notice in the Kwang yii ki (chap. 6, p. 26; original edition of 
1600), the T'ai-hang of the prefecture of Hwai-k'ing is hinted at 
in the above story; for an abstract of it is given under the name 
of this mountain. 

A landslip lh %ft in the T'ai-hang is reported in the year A.D. 265 
under the Emperor Yuan 7C ^ of the Wei (T'ung chi, chap. 74, 
p. 29b), and it is plausible that this catastrophe forms the historical 
background of Ko Hung's story. 

The Gazetteer of Yi-hing S H S& ^ has this story: — 

"As to Yao Sheng tyi &, it is unknown from what place he 
came. Once he traveled to the Chang-kung Grotto IJJt & M and, 

China 113 

a torch in his hand, entered it. There he met two Taoists jE J: 
seated opposite each other and engaged in a game of wei-k'i. Sheng 
expressed the wish to obtain some food. The Taoists pointed to 
several lumps of blue (or dark) clay or mud W $&> He chewed a 
morsel of it, and found it very fragrant. The Taoists then bade 
him go and not speak to mortals about his adventure. Sheng 
bowed and thanked them, and carried away in his bosom the 
remains of the clay. He left the grotto and met Kia Hu M &J, 
who became frightened and said, 'This is the food of dragons. 
Clay is produced in grottoes, in the same manner as rocks.' " In a 
Chinese tale, entitled "The Nine-headed Bird," a youth meets a 
dragon in its cave and notices it lick a stone ; the youth, tortured by the 
pangs of hunger, follows the dragon's example and no longer experi- 
ences hunger (R. Wilhelm, Chinesische Volksmarchen, 1927, p. 14). 

Under the heading t'u fan ± IK ("earth-rice"), a funda- 
mental document, hitherto not indicated, is contained in the K'ien 
shu 3£ # ("Records of Kwei-chou Province"), written by T'ien 
Wen ffl S (hao Mung-chai J§f 1§f). In the edition of the Yue ya 
t'angts'ung shu (chap. 4, pp. 25b-26b) it is as follows: — 

"During the period Wan-li (1573-1620) of the Ming dynasty, 
the district Tse-yang M (# (in the prefecture of Yen-chou, Shan- 
tung) was struck by a great famine. Suddenly appeared there a 
Taoist monk with a star-cap, gourd, and sword, and pointing to 
a lot of waste-land, said, 'Beneath this spot there is earth-rice, 
which may serve as food.' He vanished at once, and the crowd 
regarded him as a strange apparition. The people dug the soil 
more than a foot deep, and found earth of a bluish color, which 
somewhat had a flavor like grain. The famished people swallowed 
it eagerly, and as they greatly enjoyed it, quarrelled about the 
same piece. Several thousand men took so much of this earth 
away that it resulted in a pit several acres wide and about twenty 
feet deep. The following year, when wheat had matured, the 
Taoist monk came down to the same spot, as if he had something 
to fill out the pit. All of a sudden it was full, and again the people 
began to dig; however, they found nothing but sandy earth which 
could not be eaten; for the fairies 'fill ^ are crafty and make such 
earth only to help men. Further, in the year ping-tse M -f of 
the period Tsung-cheng (1636), there was an intense drought 
north of the Yang-tse, and in the Fung-yang mountains JH Wi ill 
this earth was produced. Many people depended on it to keep 
themselves alive. In examining the records of K'ien jS^ ;&, I find 

114 Geophagy 

that for a number of years and in former times people used to dig 
earth on the occasion of great famines and to subsist on it. People 
unable to procure food, even when there was no drought, con- 
tinually consumed such earth; nor is this astounding in view of 
the poverty of the populace of K'ien. When I heard of this, I 
was moved to sympathy with the people. Then I searched for this 
earth in order to examine it: it is white and unctuous like rice or 
meat-cakes. I tried it and found that it is flat 'of taste, but has 
no special characteristic. It is swallowed with some difficulty; 
when it has reached the stomach, however, one is satiated, but 
with a feeling of depression. Excessive eating of earth will cause 
obstructions and evil effects, and will ultimately lead to death. 
Ordinarily, people doomed to death from starvation have no leisure 
to select wherewith to fill their stomachs; anything is appetizing 
to them, and their thoughts are occupied day and night with devis- 
ing new means of subsistence. Those who escape death owe it 
to the fact that they had mixed other things with the clay. This 
earth, therefore, is not to be regarded very highly, and does not 
even satisfy as much as chaff." 

It is obvious that the specimen of white clay examined by 
T'ien Wen is not identical with the earth-rice of bluish color eaten 
by the people at the instigation of a Taoist monk. The former 
was a common inorganic clay, the latter a kind of kieselguhr con- 
taining organic substances and in principle identical with the 
"stone flour" to be discussed presently. 

A substance shi mien ^5 H ("stone meal" or "mineral flour") is 
mentioned by Li Shi-chen in his Pen ts'ao kang mu (chap. 9, 
p. 22b) published at the end of the sixteenth century. Apparently, 
it is not pointed out in any previous Pen ts'ao. "Shi mien is not a 
substance of ordinary growth, but is an object of good augury ^5 %. 
According to some, it is produced only in times of famine. In the 
third year of the period T'ien-pao Ji j| (a.d. 744), under the reign of 
Hiian Tsung of the T'ang dynasty, in the districts Wu-wei jl£ fflL and 
P'an-ho #7^1$ [in Liang-chou fu, Kan-su], a sweet spring suddenly 
arose and brought forth stones, which were transformed into flour. 1 
This was taken and eaten by the poor. In the fourth year of 

1 Inexact and incomplete translations of the text of the Pen ts'ao have been 
given by Biot (p. 216), Schott (in Ehrenberg I p. 145), and F. de Mely (Lapidaire 
chinois, p. 101). Biot translates, "Une source miraculeuse sortit de terre," omitting 
the geographical names entirely. Schott renders, "A source in Wu-jin (now 
Liang-chou fu) threw stones out." De Mely has, "La source de Li produisit 
une pierre"; in his translation, based on the unreliable text of the San ts'ai t'u 
hui (also utilized by Biot), all geographical names are eliminated, which renders 

China 115 

the period Yuan-ho X IP (a.d. 810), in the mountain valleys of 
the three chou— Yiin, Wei, and Tai— of Shan-si lif © M & ft H W, 
stones were transformed into flour, which was consumed by the 
people. In the fourth month of the fifth year of the period Siang-fu 
M %f (a.d. 1012), under the reign of the Emperor Chen Tsung of the 
Sung dynasty, there was a famine in the populace of Ts'e chou |£ iW 
[now Ki chou l=f W in P'ing-yang fu, Shan-si]; the mountains in 
the district Hiang-ning #5 1f£ S£ [in P'ing-yang fu] produced a 
greasy substance on stones like flour, which could be made into 
cakes and eaten. In the third month of the seventh year of the 
period Kia-yu M *fi (a.d. 1062), l under the Emperor Jen Tsung, 
the soil around P'eng-ch'eng s^ M [in Chi-li] produced flour; in 
the fifth month [of the same year] the soil in the district of Chung-li 
M j$ [in the prefecture of Fung-yang, An-hwi] produced flour. In 

the information valueless for scientific purposes, and the Chinese dates are not 
even correlated with those of our chronology. As the above quotation relates to 
the T'ang period, it is necessary to consult the geographical section of the T'ang 
Annals in order to understand this terminology. There we find (T'ang shu, chap. 
40, pp. 7b-8a) that the district Wu-wei jt£ J§£ f$ in Liang chou ^ »JU was divided 
into six fu Jft; namely, Ming-wei HJ§ Jjj£, Hung-ch'i gfc ^, P'an-ho ^ ^, 
Wu-ngan j£ £, Li-shwi |g 7JC, and Ku-ts'ang #f %$.; in the year a.d. 744, a 
hill came forth from under a sweet spring (li ts'iian), and in consequence of this 
event the name was changed into T'ung-hua ij'ffc. — -The natural event, as 
described above, was doubtless caused by a landslip. In 48 B.C., we read (T'ung 
chi, chap. 74, p. 29), mountains collapsed in Lung-si (Kan-su), and water-springs 
burst forth to the surface ( ll] j^ 7jt ^ ?SJ tfj ) • The same Phrase (7jC fS Hi) 
occurs in two passages of the Hou Han shu (chap. 26, pp. 3b, 4) in connection 
with landslips. — The "sweet spring" (li ts'iian g§ ^ ) was prominent among 
the phenomena of good augury. It was regarded as the essence of water, of 
sweet and fine taste, and was believed to come forth only at a time when the 
sovereign practised righteous principles. This first happened in A.D. 25 under 
the Emperor Kwang Wu of the Han, when those suffering from chronic diseases 
and partaking of this water were all cured. It appeared again in the beginning 
of the reign of the Emperor Wen of the Wei and in a.d. 435 under Wen of the 
Liu Sung dynasty (Sung shu, chap. 29, p. 41). In A.D. 1008 a sweet spring came 
forth on the T'ai-shan (Shan-tung t'ung chi, chap. 63, p. 8); and in the same 
year, the same event is reported in Ju chou $j] <Jf|, Ho-nan (Ju chou ts'iian chi, 
chap. 9, p. 63). A li ts'iian with a wine-like aroma exists on the sacred Hwa-shan 
in Shen-si (Hwa yo ts'iian tsi, ed. 1597, chap. 2, p. 3). Li is not the name of a 
river, as conceived in de M&y's work, but li ts'iian designates only "a spring of 
sweet water of miraculous origin." 

x The date is erroneous. The passage is copied from the Sung shi (chap. 66, 
p. 18), where the date is given as the first year of Kia-yu (a.d. 1056). Moreover, 
the locality is more exactly defined as the village Pai-hao £) $F| in the district 
P'eng-ch'eng; and it is added, "The soothsayers stated, 'When the earth produces 
flour, the people will be stricken by hunger.' " 

116 Geophagy 

the fifth month of the third year of the period Yuan-fung % H 
(a.d. 1080), under the reign of Shen Tsung, all stones in Lin-k'ii 
RI $J and Yi-tu ft ffl, in the prefecture of Ts'ing-chou ^ W [Shan- 
tung] were transformed into flour, gathered and eaten by the people. 
Inquiring into this phenomenon, it must be accounted for by the 
desire to secure food. As to the taste of this substance, it is sweet 
and non-poisonous. As to its healing powers, it benefits the breath; 
and eaten, when mixed with other things, it stops hunger." 

Li Shi-chen does not state that he has ever seen or examined 
this substance; and in view of his assertion that it does not ordinarily 
occur in nature, but appears in a prodigious or miraculous manner, 
this is not even probable. It is no longer known in China under 
this name, and is not given, for instance, in the "List of Medicines," 
published by the Imperial Maritime Customs. Li Shi-chen seems 
to be the only author who has reference to this matter, for the 
T'u shu tsi ch'eng cites no other text under this heading. There is 
no description of the substance preserved; and what it was, must 
remain more or less a matter of guesswork. Read and Pak (Minerals 
and Stones, Peking Soc. of Nat. Hist. Bull, III, pt. 2, 1928, No. 72) 
also give shi mien as unidentified. 

We may positively state, however, what it was not: it was not 
a famine-food. The intimation that it only appears in famine- 
times is a gratuitous speculation; for under the dates recorded there 
were no famines, nor is it said that the people were driven by hunger 
to eat this substance; they ate it, simply because it was found and 
thought to be eatable. On the other hand, in the numerous records 
of famines under the Sung dynasty, it is not stated in a single 
case that people subsisted on this mineral flour. On the contrary, 
whenever food-substitutes are mentioned in such cases, they are 
given as leaves, wood, roots, chaff, ferns, mosses, rats, and human flesh. 

A. J. C. Geerts (Produits de la nature japonaise et chinoise, 
1883, p. 388) has a brief notice on shi mien (Japanese seki-men), 
saying that he has in his collection under this name a grayish white 
friable clay coming from Iwakimura in the province of Kaga and 
not containing organic matters. "Mixed with flour," he adds, 
"this is eaten in China in times of famine as a supplement of an 
insufficient nutrition, but it appears that in Japan where bad 
harvests are fortunately much more seldom than in China geophagy 
is not practised." This statement lacks sense and logic. If the 
Japanese abstain from eating earth, how is any one to know that a 
clay specimen from Japan is edible and how is it possible to assert 

China 117 

that this Japanese specimen is identical with the Chinese "stone 
meal"? As a matter of fact, the former has nothing to do with 
the latter, and Geerts' note is no contribution to the problem. 

In my opinion the "stone meal" of the Chinese is a fossil earth 
or kieselguhr, akin to the "mountain meal" of Germany (p. 168). 

The last of the events mentioned by Li Shi-chen is also referred 
to by a contemporary writer, Wang P'i-chi IE M ;£, in his Sheng 
shwi yen Van lu M ?K $& l£ #fc (chap. 9, p. 19, and chap. 10, p. 9b), 
written toward the end of the eleventh century. This author reports 
a famine which took place in Lin-tse Sis M, in the prefecture of 
Ts'ing-chou pf #1 (Shan-tung), during the period Yiian-fung (a.d. 
1078-86); it then happened that in the mountains and plains grew 
everywhere a white flour and white stone 6 H 6 ^J like lime 
M, but unctuous; the people obtained several tens of hu ffi of this 
substance and mixed it with flour made into gruels and cakes, which 
could be eaten and proved very helpful. The author assures us that 
he made this observation with his own eyes. 

Under the heading Kwan-yin fen H If $r ("powder or flour of 
Kwan-yin," Avalokitecvara), the Pen ts'ao kang mu shi i (chap. 2, 
pp. 28b-29b; written by Chao Hio-min in 1650), which is a supple- 
ment to the Pen ts'ao kang mu, gives the following additional infor- 
mation on edible clays: — 

"According to the Gazetteer of Ch'u-chou fu M W iff i^ [in 
Che-kiang], there is a white clay of muddy appearance in the Yun-ho 
Mountains if In Ul. It is mixed with water and beaten on a stone; 
flour of glutinous rice is added, the proportions being half and half. 
This compound is steamed and consumed. It is capable of appeasing 
hunger, and is called Kwan-yin flour. 

"There is an earth or clay produced in mountains, which in its 
interior is as white as flour, very fine and glossy. In years of dearth the 
villagers hastily dig it up, mix it with wheaten flour, and bake the mass 
into cakes which they use as food. But moderation must be observed ; 
in case too much is eaten, there is danger of the belly being closed, 
as the natural properties of this clay are apt to obstruct the stomach 
and bowels. Earth produced in caves must not be administered 
for fear lest it might be poisoned with the saliva of venomous snakes. 

"Cheng Chung-k'wei M # ^, in his Leng ch'ang tai ?p H iSc, 
tells this story: In the year ping-tse N -f there was a dearth in the 
villages I-yang and Shi-wo. The Buddhist monk in charge of the 
temple there had a dream in which the Mahasatva % ± announced 

118 Geophagy 

that in the soil at the foot of the mountain there was a mineral flour 
(shifen 7& Wt), which might be taken to satisfy hunger. In accordance 
with these words he set out to dig and obtained this mineral flour, 
which was very much like fern flour (kite fen fl$ Ifr). 1 He ground it 
finely and made it into cakes which were steamed until well cooked 
and of pleasant taste, quite unusual. The villagers, as soon as 
they received the news, vied with one another to gather this flour. 
Some placed it in cabbage oil which made it so bitter that it was 
unfit to eat. This substance was what is called 'flour of the Maha- 
satva' (to shi fen jt dr $K). 

"The mineral flour discussed in the section 'Stones' of the Pen 
ts'ao kang mu is exactly the same. It is regarded as something extra- 
ordinary and grows imperceptibly. Now everywhere in mountains 
there are lakes on the banks of which is found a kind of earth that 
has curative properties, inasmuch as it stops hunger, benefits the 
breath, and adjusts the inner organs. When eaten, it stops hunger 
unconsciously. It has the merit of removing moisture, and in this 
respect is superior to ts'ang shu Hr tIl (Atractylis sp.), for even earth 
may perform the function of the element water. Its taste is a bit 
sweet and bitter; its nature is even, it neutralizes poison caused by 
insects, it cures dropsy, clears the eyes and heals jaundice caused 
by moisture." 

In the Gazetteer of the district of Hwa-yang, which with Ch'eng- 
tu forms the prefectural city of Ch'eng-tu and capital of Se-ch'wan 
Province (Hwa-yang Men chi, chap. 43, p. 3), it is reported that 
"in the forty-ninth year of K'ien-lung (1784) an ochre-colored earth 
was produced in the town of Hwa-yang and that the people picked 
it up and ate it, as it was as fine as flour." There was no famine at 
that time, and there was no necessity of consuming this earth. It 
simply appealed to the people for the reason that the appearance of 
this earth was an unusual natural occurrence and that it was dis- 
tinguished as to color, fineness, and possibly flavor. 

An allusion to "mineral flour" is perhaps contained in the 
following tradition which is pointed out by J. F. Davis (On the 
Poetry of the Chinese, p. 95, Macao, 1834), but which I have not 
been able to verify from Chinese records. "When Yung-lo usurped 
the whole empire (a.d. 1403), one of his nephews, the proper heir, 
shaved his head, and assuming the habit of a priest, retired to the 

x The young shoots of some kinds of fern are eaten, and a kind of arrow-root 
is made from the rhizomes, which, after proper washing and cooking, are also 
eaten, in spite of their bitterness — only as substitutes in times of famine (G. A. 
Stuart, Chinese Materia Medica, p. 173). 

China 119 

depths of the mountains. The living rock there opened, and poured 
out a constant supply of grain for the support of the royal refugee. 
After his death, the miracle still went on, until a covetous priest, 
not satisfied with the quantity of grain thus obtained, enlarged the 
hole or fissure in the stone through which it flowed — when the 
supply immediately stopped altogether, as the proper reward of 
his cupidity." 

Rockhill (J. R. A. S. t 1891, p. 267) was informed that an eatable 
clay is found in holes in the low ground near the river at Wu-tai 
shan in Shan-si. 

From the notices of the Pen ts'ao kang mu and Pen ts'ao kang 
mu shi i it follows that medicinal properties also were attributed to 
edible clays. Li Shi-chen has devoted chapter VII of his work to 
earthy and clayish substances, discussing sixty-one species and 
their administration in the pharmacopoeia. This subject belongs to 
the history of pharmacology and has no direct bearing on geophagy; 
these medicinal clays were administered in small quantities in the 
form of pills, and were usually blended with other ingredients. 
Such pills surely were not capable of leading one into a habit of or 
passion for earth-eating. In this connection, however, attention 
must be drawn to the fact that it was the Taoists again who 
inaugurated the employment of earth as a remedy against disease. 
There is a story of a Taoist, Ch'en Nan ffl. $i by name, who was 
possessed of the power of curing disease with a medicine which 
he made by kneading earth and charmed water together into a 
bolus. In consequence he was nicknamed by his contemporaries 
Ch'en Ni-wan &. U %; that is, Mud-pill Ch'en (cf. W. P. Yetts, 
New China Review, I, 1919, p. 17). 

Rains of earth are also recorded in Chinese chronicles, thus in 
1098 B.C. in the Bamboo Annals (E. Biot, Tchou chou ki nien, 1842, 
p. 29); others during the period Shi-yuan (86-80 B.C.), in a.d. 503, 
535 ("yellow dust"), 536, 550 ("yellow sand"), 580 ("yellow earth"), 
and 582 ("earth") ; see T'ung chi *§. J&, chap. 74, p. 4. In no case 
is it recorded, however, that such earth was consumed, presumably 
because an earth rain was considered an evil augury. 

Ehrenberg (I p. 144) has analyzed two specimens of edible 
earth from China. One of these, a white earth, he received from A. 
von Humboldt, while the latter resided in Paris, and forwarded 
from China to Paris by French missionaries. The other specimen 
was a yellow earth which Ehrenberg obtained in 1847 from one of 

120 Geophagy 

the large geological collections of London and which proved to be 
a sort of loam. 

The text quoted above from the K'ien shu demonstrates clearly 
that clay also served occasionally as a famine food and that it was 
a Taoist monk who pointed it out to the populace. It must be 
emphasized, however, that, comparatively speaking, geophagy has 
been a very rare occurrence in China in times of famine. 

Famines, droughts, inundations, and other similar catastrophes, 
to which the country has so frequently been subject, are listed 
with minute care in the chapters of the Annals, entitled Wu hing 
chi 3l fr ^ ("Records relating to the Five Elements")- In the 
majority of cases, merely the fact of a famine is recorded under a 
given year (see, for instance, Sung shu, chap. 34, p. 31; and T'ang shu, 
chap. 34, p. 14), while food-substitutes used in famines are but seldom 
mentioned in the Annals. The gruesome phrase A ^ Jt ("men ate 
one another") recurs constantly. In A.D. 939, when locusts ravaged 
the fields of Chu chou ^ jW (Shan-tung), the people were forced to 
subsist on grass and leaves (Kiu Wu tai shi, chap. 141, p. 6 b). 

In A.D. 1127 when the city of Pien-liang (now K'ai-fung, 
capital of Ho-nan Province) was stricken by a great famine, the 
price of a pint of rice soared to three hundred copper coins, a single 
rat reached a high mark of several hundred copper coins, and 
people subsisted on aquatic plants and leaves of trees like Sophora 
japonica (Sung shi, Annals of the Sung Dynasty, chap. 67, p. 2). 
In A.D. 1148 when the eastern part of Che-kiang Province was 
visited by a famine, food was reduced to distillers' grains, chaff, 
grass, and wood (ibid.). In A.D. 1640 there prevailed a drought, 
locust-plague, and in consequence a famine in Ju chou $H ;W 
(Ho-nan) when leaves of cotton-trees and other plants sold for a 
hundred copper coins the catty; crows and magpies deserted the 
country and flew southward, leaving their nests empty (Ju chou 
ts'uan chi, chap. 9, p. 63). We read also that people driven by 
hunger gnawed at crossbows or even boiled shoes, armor, leather, 
or sinews. 

Grass, foliage, weeds, wild herbs, and tree-bark have always been 
the principal food-substitutes in famine times up to the present day. 
The best known historical example of recent times is the so-called 
"sweet dew" (kan lu) consumed by the T'ai-p'ing rebels during the 
siege of Nanking in 1863. Li Siu-ch'eng ^ ^ $t, the so-called 
Chung Wang fo ZE ("King of Loyalty"), as he tells in his memoirs, 
induced the T'ien Wang ("The Heavenly King"), the leader of the 

China 121 

T'ai-p'ings (Hung Siu-ts'iian $£ ^ Jk), to issue a decree with 
suggestions to meet the distress of the famished population. "The 
decree was that they should eat 'sweet dew' in order to support 
themselves, whereupon I asked, 'How can they subsist on sweet 
dew?' The T'ien Wang replied, 'Let them take of the things which 
the earth brings forth' — this, it appears, was what he called 'sweet 
dew.' In concert with others I then represented that such was not 
a fit article for food, whereupon the T'ien Wang observed, 'Bring 
some here, and after preparing it, I will partake of some first.' As no 
one complied with his request, he gathered several herbs from his own 
palace garden and, having made them up into a ball, he sent the 
ball outside with orders to the people to prepare their food in like 
manner .... Three or four years prior to the present crisis orders 
had been issued to each household to collect ten piculs of 'sweet 
dew,' and deliver it into the treasury. Some obeyed and contributed 
their quota, others did not. The T'ien Wang for many days ate 
this stuff in his palace, and if my chief could do so, there was no 
reason why I should not do the same" (The Autobiography of the 
Chung Wang, translated from the Chinese by W. T. Lay, p. 62, 
Shanghai, 1865). 

Some examples of geophagy in times of famine, which have come 
to my notice, may now follow. Such cases have occurred indeed, 
though rarely, and clay has been the last resort of the people when 
all other means of subsistence were exhausted. 

The Kiu hwang hwo min shu <fc %t f£ Be HF is a monograph 
dealing with famines, droughts, and other catastrophes and the 
means employed on such occasions in saving human life. This work 
was written under the Sung by Tung Wei 31 ^ (title Ki-hing 
^s £$■), who graduated as tsin ski in A.D. 1194, and has been reprinted 
in the collection Ch'ang en shu shi It W- # Hf published in 1854. 
Several examples of geophagy during times of famine are cited in 
this book (chap, $p *a, pp. 2 and 11). Thus, in A.D. 618, at a time 
of scarcity, people gathered bark and leaves of trees, or pounded 
straw into a powder, or baked earth and ate it. 

It once happened under the T'ang (a.d. 618-906), when military 
forces besieged Lo-yang and supplies were exhausted in the city, 
that people ate grass, roots, and leaves. When all this was finished, 
they subsisted on cakes made from pulverized rice dipped in float- 
ing mud. All fell ill, their bodies swelled, and their feet weakened 
until finally they died. In the period K'ien-tao (a.d. 1165-74), 

122 Geophagy 

when a great famine prevailed in Kiang-si, there were people who 
ate white clay (pai shan t'u fi £§ ±) and choked to death. 

It is on record in the Wu Tai shi 3l ft & (Annals of the Five 
Dynasties of the tenth century): "When the town Ts'ang chou 
tt ^H was besieged by Liu Shou-kwang §>J *& t£ [he died in a.d. 
912], the inhabitants ate pieces of clay mixed with their food" $£ & 
31 *& (cf. Couvreur, Dictionnaire classique chinois, p. 172). 

In the Gazetteer of the District of Wen shwi ~% ?Jc (Wen shwi 
hien chi, chap. 1, p. 7b), in the prefecture of T'ai-yiian in Shan-si 
Province, it is on record that in a.d. 1586 there was no rain during 
the entire year, so that a huge famine prevailed and people ate 
grass, roots, and white clay or kaolin (pai t'u fi ±), with a very 
large number of dead in consequence. 

In 1834 the Chinese missionary Mathieu-Ly, stationed in the 
province of Kiang-si, reported in the Annates de la Propagation de 
la Foi (No. XLVIII, 1836, p. 85), "Several of our Christians will 
surely die of starvation this year [1834]. God only can remedy so 
many and so great needs. All crops have been swept away by the 
inundation of the rivers. For three years numerous people feed 
on the bark of a tree which grows here; others eat a light, white 
earth discovered in a mountain. This earth can only be bought for 
silver, so that not every one is able to procure it. The people first 
sold their wives, then sons and daughters, then their utensils and 
furniture; finally they demolished their houses in order to dispose 
of the timber. Many of them were wealthy four years ago." 
Reporting on the great famine which overtook Shen-si Province 
in 1900-01, F. H. Nichols (Through Hidden Shensi, p. 232) states, 
"In order to buy food the farmers sold first their scanty stock of 
furniture and farming tools, then the roofs of their houses, and, 
lastly, their children." 

"Regarding the straits as to food to which the sufferers by 
famine were put, various details are given. As a general rule, when 
famine was at its height, the sufferers from it, as long as they were 
able to do so, were in the habit of gathering grass, weeds, and 
other herbage they could find in the fields, and of eating these 
alone, or with such scanty supplies of better food as they were 
able to get. Others betook themselves to a soft clayey slate, which 
for a time allayed the pangs of hunger, but had a very injurious 
effect upon them. Those who had bean-cake, cotton seeds, and 
grass seeds swept from the roadsides, or bark and dried leaves, 
were considered fortunate. In Shan-si stone-cakes were somewhat 

China 123 

extensively made use of as food, and were exposed for sale. The 
stone of which they chiefly consisted was the same as that of which 
English soft slate pencils are made. This was pounded to dust and 
mixed with millet husks, in greater or less proportions according to 
the poverty of the people, and then baked. It did not look bad, 
but tasted like what it was — dust. Elsewhere the people made 
use, as food, of a kind of white earth brought from the mountains, 
and which has much the appearance of corn-flour. Many of the 
people, for want of other sustenance, supported themselves upon 
this 'mountain meal.' In many places it was impossible to see any 
trees with the bark upon them; it had all been stripped off to be 
reduced and so consumed as food. Of another locality it is recorded 
that the most common food of the people consisted of leaves, 
mainly willow-leaves, weeds, and elm-bark; that the trees in sum- 
mer were so stripped of foliage as to look bare as in early spring; 
the very weeds fast getting used up. Near T'ai-yiian fu, at the 
extreme northern limit of the famine in Shan-si, the roots of rushes 
were all eaten up; there were no trees left to bark except the poison- 
ous ones, and hunger made the people often try these. In the same 
locality every family lived on the seeds of thorn-bushes or wild 
herbs, which they ground and mixed with a little corn-flour. In the 
southern part of that province every tree whose bark was not actually 
bare was stripped bare, and the dead trunks were cut up as fire- 
wood; in one district there some fine persimmon (Dyospyros kaki) 
orchards were left nearly uninjured, from which circumstances it 
was concluded that the bark of that tree could not be eaten, not- 
withstanding the excellent quality of its fruit. Elsewhere in that 
province, the root of the flag-rush (Typha?). stems of wheat, millet, 
maize, etc., and leaves of the willow, peach, plum, apricot, mul- 
berry, and persimmon were eaten; also wild herbs, too numerous to 
name, oily earth, and many other articles not usually consumed. In 
some instances it was recorded that by means of small sums of 
money given by the several agencies of relief, those who were living 
on straw and reeds ground up with a little mud or chaff or boiled 
bark, were able by the addition of more substantial food thus put 
within their reach to tide over the time pretty well until the autumn 
harvest was cut" (Surgeon-General C. A. Gordon, An Epitome of 
the Reports of the Medical Officers to the Chinese Imperial Maritime 
Customs Service, from 1871 to 1882, pp. 387, 388, London, 1884). 

In the report of the great famine in northern China during 1920 
and 1921, mention is made of "flour made of ground leaves, fuller's 

124 Geophagy 

earth, flower seed, etc." used in the daily diet of the famine-stricken 
(W. H. Mallory, China: Land of Famine, p. 2, New York, 1926). 

Speaking of steatite or soapstone found in the environment of 
Lai-chou, Shan-tung Province, A. A. Fauvel (La Province chinoise 
du Chan-toung, p. 163, Bruxelles, 1892) remarks that steatite in 
a pulverized state is still employed in Shan-tung for the purpose of 
rendering wheat flour white and heavy; during the famine of 1876-77 
many unfortunate people ate such flour in the hope of deceiving 
their stomachs and appeasing their hunger; the result was a terrible 
constipation which entailed death. 

The Chinese and also the Japanese have a class of literature 
styled "treatises of eatable things" and devoted to a discussion of 
vegetal and animal foods for human consumption. None of these 
books makes any reference to earth or clay as an article of diet or 
as a relish; nor have I ever heard or read of an habitual earth- 
eater in China. The Chinese, although they regarded diatomaceous 
earth as a marvel of nature and occasionally ate it and although 
the destitute when driven by starvation occasionally resorted to 
earth-eating, cannot be classified as geophagists. 

Finally I deem it my duty to refute a few of the many errors 
and misrepresentations from which this subject has suffered on the 
part of previous writers. Ehrenberg (I p. 144) asserts that clay- 
eating goes back in China to ancient times. There is no evidence 
for this generalization. Ancient Chinese literature contains no 
reference to such a practice. In this case, negative evidence may 
claim some degree of validity; for the Chinese have always been 
keen observers of the soil, its formation, color, and other proper- 
ties, for purposes of agriculture and industry. The chapter Yii 
kung of the Shu king is the best witness thereof: the nature of the 
soil in each of the Nine Provinces is briefly characterized; for 
instance, as "whitish and rich," as "red, clayish, and rich," as 
"yellow and mellow," etc. In no passage, however, is any mention 
made of geophagy. In the Chou li, the various qualities of soils are 
set forth, and five classes are assumed according to aptitude for 
cultivation, productions, and physical characteristics of the inhabi- 
tants (E. Biot, Tcheou-li, I, pp. 194, 276). There are, further, 
numerous references to earths and clays in technical literature, 
which, however, maintains complete silence as to edible sorts (cf. 
Beginnings of Porcelain in China, Field Museum Anthr. Series, 
XV, No. 2, pp. 111-117). 

China 125 

Earth colored and plain played a great role in the worship of 
the god of the Soil and in the ceremony of investiture with a fief 
when a clod of earth enveloped by the white herb mao 6 if* was 
bestowed upon the vassal by the liege-lord (cf. Chavannes, Le T'ai 
Chan, 1910, pp. 450-459; Le royaume de Wou et de Yue, T'oung Pao, 
1916, p. 187; J. Przyluski, Bull, de VEcole francaise, X, 1910, p. 347). 

A clod of earth was the symbol of the land and sovereign power 
over it. In 643 B.C. when Ch'ung-er fi If left Wei, he begged some 
food from a villager, who handed him a clod of earth. The prince 
became irritated and was about to whip him, but Tse-fan -? 3B 
restrained him, saying that this is a gift of Heaven. Ch'ung-er then 
touched the ground with his forehead, received the clod, and took 
it with him in his carriage (Tso chwan, V, Hi kung, 23d year; cf. 
Legge, Classics, V, p. 186; Couvreur, Tch'ouen Ts'iou et Tso 
Tchouan, I, p. 342). These examples are instructive in demonstrating 
that the sacred character of earth did not lead to earth-eating. 

D. Hooper and H. H. Mann (p. 251) assert that "the Chinese 
are addicted to the habit and eat a white clay free from all organic 
remains." No authority is cited for this bold generalization, 1 but 
reference is made to D. Hanbury's "Science Papers" (p. 219), 
where an aluminous and an argillaceous earth, used for medicinal 
purposes, are described; but Hanbury does not state that they are 
ever taken as food. Hooper and Mann, further, remark that the 
Chinese, in many parts, mix gypsum with pulse, and thus form a 
jelly, which they greatly relish. What is meant here is doubtless 
traceable to F. Porter Smith (Contributions toward the Materia 
Medica of China, p. 108), who says, "The mineral gypsum is largely 
used as an ingredient in the bean-curd of ordinary diet. It enters 
into the composition of some sorts of putty, and is used to give 
rice a whiter face, after hulling and preparing it for sale." This 
phenomenon, however, is radically different from clay-eating. The 
question is here merely of an adulteration of food-stuffs, but the 
Chinese certainly have no craving or appetite for gypsum. 

R. Lasch (p. 216) states, "In China, earth-eating is widely dif- 
fused. Pater Du Halde mentions a clay from the province of Shen-si 
utilized by Chinese women in order to render their complexion pale. 
Such clays are also found in many other places of China, and as in 

x The sentence is evidently taken from the article of Sarat Chandra Mitra, 
who says (p. 288), "The Chinese, the Annamites, etc., are also addicted to this 
habit." Almost all data in the first chapter of Hooper's and Mann's treatise are 
derived from Mitra's article without acknowledgment. Who has ever observed 
an earth-addict among the Chinese? 

126 Geophagy 

Persia and Java, are publicly sold." He quotes Du Halde's work, 
but gives no exact page-reference. In fact, Du Halde says nothing 
of the kind; at least he does not say that Chinese women eat clay 
to bring this effect about; he does say (Description of the Empire 
of China, I, p. 281), "It is affirmed that they rub their faces every 
morning with a kind of paint to make them look fair and give them 
a complexion, but that it soon spoils their skin and makes it full of 
wrinkles." It is an old story that Chinese women, besides rice 
powder, use pulverized clay as a face powder, but they never took 
it internally. The Ling piao lu i (chap. A, p. 4, ed. of Wu ying 
tien), written at the end of the ninth century by Liu Sun (Sino- 
Iranica, p. 268), for instance, points out a pit of white clay north 
of the city of Fu-chou 1§ 'JN (in the province of Hu-pei), the material 
being dug and traded by the people of the district and being used 
as a face powder by women. 


The brief communication of E. T. Hamy (see Bibliography) is 
based on information received by him from G. Dumoutier at Hanoi, 
who sent him specimens of earth cakes dried or cooked and con- 
sumed in four provinces of Tonking — Nam-Dinh, Thai-Binh, Hai- 
Duong, and Sontay. These cakes are said to be regarded rather as 
dainties than as articles of food, but their consumption is not con- 
nected with any superstitious idea or any belief in medicinal vir- 
tues of the substance; it is, according to Dumoutier, a simple 
depravation of taste maintained by local tradition. There are two 
kinds of these cakes; one consisting of thin shavings cut off from a 
compact block and rather dried than cooked over bricks made red 
hot by fire. The natives call them "cat-ears tiles" (ngoe tax m&o). 
They sell on the market on an average at 18 silver dollars for 600 
grams. The other specimen looks like a thin tile, and has a beauti- 
ful red color in consequence of a rather strong roasting; its price is 
the same as for the preceding one. At the end of Hamy's notice a 
few chemical observations are made by E. Demoussy. The cakes in 
question have the physical properties of clay, unctuous to the touch, 
almost completely free from grains of sand, sticking to the tongue 
like kaolin and having the same flavor as the latter or rather lack 
of flavor. The clay includes a bit of iron and lime without an 
appreciable proportion of limestone, a little phosphoric acid, and a 
quantity of azote in that proportion generally found in a good soil; 
that is, about 15 per cent. The only characteristic that distinguishes 
these specimens from ordinary earth is that they contain a bit of 
combined ammonia, but in a quantity not sufficient to convey to 
them the slightest flavor. In short, they do not contain any 
ingredients that would justify their use as an article of food. 

As the information given by Dumoutier seemed little satis- 
factory to me, I applied to the Ecole francaise d'Extreme-Orient of 
Hanoi, and the then secretary, Noel Peri, whose premature death 
is much to be deplored, was good enough to transmit to me in 1919 
the following precise information which had been communicated to 
him by Dr. med. Paucot after the latter's own observations. "Cases 
of geophagy were observed only among the Annamese, not among 
the Muong. There is in Tonking no fossil edible clay. The cases 
known date more than twenty years back, the last being recorded 
in 1899-1900. The question was of eaters of an alluvial potter's clay 
observed in only two villages, one located a few kilometers south- 


128 Geophagy 

east of Hanoi on the right bank of the Red River, the other on the 
same bank opposite the town Yen-bay. There was but a small 
number of such persons, all in a wretched condition, who seemed to 
have acquired this habit in consequence of famines. How they got 
this idea could not be determined. The habit of eating a few mouth- 
fuls of earth at their meals persisted even when it was possible for 
them to return to a normal state of nutrition, and they consumed 
this earth jointly with other foods. The clay was cut up into the 
shape of thin tiles of small size and simply dried in the sun. This 
consumption of clay resulted in the following symptoms: increase in 
volume of the intestines; extensive dilatation of the stomach which 
in some cases dropped to a point beneath the umbilicus; frequent 
helminthiasis; ankylostomiasis in all cases; state of emaciation and 
cachexy within the lapse of one or two years. From time to time 
cases of morbid geophagy are observed among children in the Anna- 
mese population; the parents are generally annoyed and alarmed 
and consult a physician. These cases are of interest only from a 
medical point of view, but seem to be devoid of interest to the 

Monsieur Peri added that these earth cakes were never regarded 
as dainties, that they occurred until a few years ago not far from 
Hanoi in the provinces of Ha-dong and Son-tay, but that this custom 
appears to have almost vanished at present owing to the cessation 
of famines, as he was assured by a high Annamese functionary. 
Mitra (p. 288), without citing an authority, asserts that "the 
Annamese look upon the pasty and tasteless clay as a great 


The earliest mention of geophagy with reference to Java is made 
by Labillardiere (Relation du voyage a la recherche de la P^rouse 
fait en 1791-92 et 1798, II, p. 322 or Account of a Voyage in Search 
of La PeYouse, II, p. 338, London, 1800). In the villages between 
Surabaya and Samarang he noticed with surprise in the markets of 
several villages shops filled with little square, flat loaves of a reddish 
potter's earth which the inhabitants called tana ampo. This term 
means "clay earth." In his Malay vocabulary appended to his work 
(p. 376) the author defines it as "potter's clay which the Javanese 
eat." "I had at first imagined," Labillardiere writes, "that they 
might probably employ these cakes for scouring their clothes; but 
presently I saw the natives chew them in small quantities, and they 
assured me that they made no other use of them." A specimen of 
this loam was sent in 1847 by Mohnike to Berlin, where it was 
analyzed by Ehrenberg (Bericht iiber die Verhandlungen der Ber- 
liner Akademie, 1848, pp. 222-225). Dutch scholars have since done 
considerable work in studying the edible clays used in Malaysia, 
above all J. J. Altheer, a chemist, who has examined and analyzed 
eleven specimens from Java and Borneo, and J. Heringa, who has 
investigated a clay coming from the west coast of Sumatra. 

The word ampo is explained by J. Rigg (Dictionary of the Sunda 
Language, p. 13, Batavia, 1862) as follows: "Said of animals, parti- 
cularly buffalo and deer, which lick the places where salt has been 
deposited, or are in the habit of licking the ground or rocks which 
contain some saline matter. Batu ampo is ampo stone which is found 
in many parts of Java and eaten by the natives. It is either a rock 
in a high state of decomposition, from having undergone a sort of 
caries in situ, or in other cases may be an aggregation of minute 
animal exuviae." 

In a letter addressed to A. von Humboldt, Leschenault has given 
the following information: "The earth sometimes eaten by the Java- 
nese is a sort of reddish ferruginous clay. It is spread out on rather 
thin leaves and then rolled into the shape of small tubes (almost in 
the form of the cinnamon of commerce) which are toasted over a fire. 
In this state the clay is called ampo, and is sold in the markets. The 
ampo has an insipid and empyreumatic flavor. It is rather absorbing, 
sticking to the tongue, and dries it up. Only women will eat it, 


130 Geophagy 

especially during the period of maternity or when attacked by the 
malady known in Europe as pica. Some men also eat ampo, for the 
purpose of checking obesity. I believe that ampo only acts on 
the stomach as a substance which absorbs the gastric juices" 
(Camilli, p. 188). 

Hekmeyer, who was an officer in charge of the distribution of 
drugs in the Dutch Indies, stated that the Javanese first remove sand 
and other hard substances from the edible clay, and then reduce it 
to a paste by kneading it with water. The dressed clay is then molded 
into small cakes or tablets of about the thickness of lead pencils. The 
latter are baked in an iron sauce-pan, and when thoroughly roasted, 
look like pieces of dried pork. The Javanese often partake of small 
figures roughly made from clay in the form of animals or little men 
like those made by pastry-cooks (Mitra, p. 288). E. Ferrand gives 
illustrations of such clay figures representing a girl astride a dog, a 
woman holding a child, and a dancing girl. It is reported also that the 
women of Java eat pieces of a red pottery made at Samarang (Heringa, 
p. 186) and that at Batavia red pieces of clay wrapped in dried leaves 
of pisang or other plants are sold in the market (Altheer, p. 84). 

The women of Java are also said to eat earth when attacked by 
chlorosis or pica. Others resort to it as an alleged means of reducing 
weight, because a slender figure is regarded as beautiful. 

The preparation of ampo in Java forms an industry of its own 
which is practised by professionals, called tukang ampo (A. Maass, 
Durch Zentral-Sumatra, II, p. 252). 

A red-brown earth is eaten by the Batak women on the west 
coast of Sumatra (Heringa, p. 186). 

In the highlands of Padang in Sumatra earth is eaten, especially 
by pregnant women. To bring about abortion, a pap made of leaves 
and eatable clay is heated and applied to the abdomen. In Nias 
women put hot slices of clay on the abdomen to the same end (A. 
Maass, op. cit.). 

The Encyclopaedic van Nederlandsch-Indie (2d ed., I, p. 3) gives 
the following brief summary under Eetbare aarde: — 

"Eating earth is a custom encountered throughout the Archi- 
pelago, both in Java and Sumatra among Malayans and Batak, 
among the Dayak of Borneo, in Sumbawa, and even in New Guinea. 
The earth which is eaten, called ampo in Java, consists of a fat clay 
white, yellow, reddish, yellow brown, or gray green in color, and 
which besides the common components of clay contains bituminous 
and organic substances. It is carefully cleaned; when it has settled 

Malaysia and Polynesia 131 

after a night, it is rubbed and formed into disks or tubes. The 
cakes are often covered with a solution of salt, smeared with coco- 
nut oil, and are then roasted. The earth is usually eaten as a delicacy, 
sometimes also by pregnant women, that the unborn infant may be 
fond of it. Its use leads to constipation and illness." 

Other writers say that Javanese pregnant women eat clay in the 
belief that their foetus is fond of it. 

Aside from this realistic geophagy, there is a ceremonial form of 
it. Eating of earth features in the ordeals of the Javanese: when a 
dispute arises about a boundary, it is believed that a bit of the con- 
troversial earth swallowed will swell the wrong-doer or burst him (P. 
J. Veth, Java, IV, 1907, p. 146). This custom may be traceable to 
India (below, p. 141). 

In the island of Timor earth-eating played a role in ordeals. 
When the oath was sworn, a bit of rice was scattered, and some 
earth was eaten while the Mistress of the Earth was invoked (Riedel, 
Die Landschaft Dawah oder West-Timor, Deutsche Geogr. Blatter, X, 
p. 280; and A. H. Post, Grundriss der ethnologischen Jurisprudenz, 
I, 1895, pp. 482-483). 

H. L. Roth (The Natives of Sarawak and British North Borneo, 
I, 1896, p. 385) quotes from Sir Spencer St. John (1862) that "in 
their boat expeditions Borneo people take a supply of red ochre to 
eat, in case of becoming short of other provisions; and we once found 
in some deserted Seribas' prahus many packets of a white oleaginous 
clay used for the same purpose"; and from Bishop McDougall (1863) 
that "there is a certain slimy clay which the Sakarran Dyaks always 
provide themselves with when they make their excursions in their 
boats, and which they suck when their stock of rice is exhausted: 
they say it is very nutritious." Roth was informed that the Undup 
occasionally eat a clay much resembling fuller's earth; they did not 
like it, but thought it a healthy thing to do — they seemed to think 
it acted as a purifier. 

A. W. Nieuwenhuis (Quer durch Borneo, I, 1904, p. 83) informs 
us, "The fact is noteworthy that the natives of central Borneo some- 
times crave a peculiar relish; thus, I observed that men and women, 
particularly pregnant women, sought in the soil of the banks for a 
yellowish or reddish loam consisting of weathered slate." 

0. Beccari (Wanderings in the Great Forests of Borneo, 1904, 
pp. 335, 337) tells of Dayak of Borneo hunting among the pebbles 
of a torrent for a peculiar stone and nibbling it greedily as if it were a 
sweetmeat. It was a kind of clayey schist, soft and brittle and greasy 

132 Geophagy 

to the touch. At Ruma Sale he saw again some Dayak eating clay- 
schist with evident relish and observes, "It certainly was not eaten 
to appease hunger, but as a delicacy or perhaps to assuage an instinc- 
tive craving of the stomach for some alkaline substance." 

H.W.Walker (Wanderings among South Sea Savages, 1909, p. 220) 
writes, "I made the discovery that some of my Dayak friends 
were addicted to the horrible[!] habit of eating clay, and actually 
found a regular little digging in the side of a hill where they worked 
to get these lumps of reddish gray clay, and soon caught some of 
the old men eating it. They declared that they enjoyed it." Clay- 
eating seems to be quite general among the Dayak (see also Altheer, 
pp. 85-87). 

Among the Kayan of Borneo "it frequently happens that the 
woman begins to crave to eat a peculiar soapy earth (batu krap), 
and this is generally supplied to her" (C. Hose and W. McDougall, 
Pagan Tribes of Borneo, II, 1912, p. 153). 

I. H. N. Evans (Among Primitive Peoples in Borneo, 1922, 
p. 114) writes, "At Tuaran the women have the abnormal habit of 
eating earth, which is also found in other parts of Borneo, in Java, 
and the Federated Malay States. Not far from the Chinese shops 
at this station there is a gully, which at the time of heavy rains has 
a small stream running at the bottom of it. The sides of the gully 
are made of a bluish gray clay with one or two bands of a hard dark 
purplish red clay running through it. At about six o'clock in the 
evening it is usual to see anything up to about a dozen women 
digging out this red clay with pointed sticks or small knives, and 
putting it into baskets. I have been told that the clay is roasted 
before being eaten, and that some women consume very large quan- 
tities. It is said to be a good medicine for women who are enceinte. 
I have several times dug out a sample and eaten it myself; it has 
rather the consistency of chocolate, but is almost tasteless." 

With reference to the same locality 0. Rutter (The Pagans of 
North Borneo, 1929, p. 72) supplies the following interesting infor- 
mation: "The women of the Tuaran group have a habit of eating 
a dark red clay which is found near the Chinese shops at the Tuaran 
Government Station, and tastes something like unsweetened choco- 
late. Mr. E. A. Pearson, who was stationed at Tuaran for some 
time, tells me that this earth is eaten by women who wish to bear 
children, since it is supposed to have particular effect at or about 
the time of the menstrual periods. That is, it is eaten as a means 
of securing pregnancy and not as a medicine during pregnancy, as 
Mr. I. H. N. Evans states. It seems to be rather a stealthy habit 

Malaysia and Polynesia 133 

and the women (naturally enough) are shy about admitting that 
they eat it; they dig it out of the ground quite openly, but it is al- 
ways 'for someone else.' Some women undoubtedly become addicts 
and cannot give up the habit, even when they are long past child- 
bearing. One elderly Dusun crone told Mr. Pearson that she would 
rather give up her betel-nut than her daily whack of clay." 

The analysis of an edible clay from Borneo is given in Zeitschrift 
fur Ethnologie, III, 1871, p. 273. 

In the Moluccas, a grayish white clay is eaten at Abubu in 
Nusalaut and in Saparua, notably by women during the period of 
pregnancy, and as stated by one informant "for the purpose of giv- 
ing birth to white children" (K. Martin, Reisen in den Molukken, 
1894, p. 55). 

No case of genuine geophagy has become known to me from the 
Philippines. The following instances in which earth is used cere- 
monially and medicinally by the Tinguians have been kindly com- 
municated to me by Dr. F. C. Cole. 

The second day following a marriage is known as sipsipot ("the 
beginning or the start"). The couple go with their parents to the 
fields, and after the boy has cut grass along the edge of the land, he 
takes a little of the soil on his headaxe. Both bride and groom taste 
of this, "so that the ground will yield good harvests for them." 

As a cure for dysentery and cholera, leaves of the sobosob 
(Blumea balsamifera) are placed in a jar of water. Above this a ball 
of clay is suspended, and banana leaves are placed over the mouth 
of the jar to prevent escape of the steam. The leaves are boiled for 
a time, and then the ball of clay is crushed and mixed with water, 
and this is given the patient to drink. 

At the beginning of the rice harvest, the woman of the family 
goes alone to the fields until she has cut a hundred bundles of rice. 
During this time she uses no salt in her food, but sand is used as a 

Throughout the Islands it is a common thing to mix the earth 
taken from nests of "white ants" with water and give it to patients 
troubled with bowel complaints. It is also mixed with water and 
applied to sores. 

The nest of the nido (a small cave bird) is mixed with water, and 
is used as a cure for coughs and consumption. 

As regards Polynesia, some forms of geophagy are reported from 
New Zealand, and possibly it was anciently known in Tahiti. 

134 Geophagy 

A. S. Thomson (The Story of New Zealand, I, 1859, p. 157) 
refers to "a clay called kotou, with an alkaline taste and an unctuous 
feel, which was eaten by the New Zealanders when pressed by 

E. Best (The Maori, I, p. 432, Wellington, 1924) writes that "in 
times of great scarcity a kind of clay (uku) was eaten, as during the 
long siege of Kura-a-renga at Te Mahia; hence that fortified village 
was afterwards known as Kai-uku ('clay eating')." 

The same scholar, a well-known authority on Maori agriculture 
and life, has been good enough to favor me with the following notes: 

"In 1824 the Puke-karoro fortified village at Te Mahia was 
occupied by some hundreds of the Ngati-Kahu-ngunu tribe, when it 
was surrounded and besieged by a large force of raiders of the Tuhoe, 
Ngati-Maru, and other tribes. The siege continued for some months, 
until the besieged were reduced to cannibalism, families exchanging 
children so as to be guiltless of eating their own. Other non-com- 
batants were also eaten, also quantities of the bluish diatomaceous 
clay called uku. Hence the siege and fort are often referred to as 
Kai-uku ('clay eating'). Cf. Journ. Polyn. Soc, X, 1901, p. 26; XIII, 
1904, p. 2; XVI, 1907, p. 20; Transactions New Zealand Institute, 
XXXV, p. 81. 

"Some form of mud or clay was eaten in the Rotorua District in 
times of scarcity; a favored deposit of it was at Rotomahana. 

"The Rev. R. Taylor mentions an unctuous clay or earth of a 
yellowish color that was eaten under similar circumstances." 

The Maoris living around Taupo Lake are said to have eaten a 
fine, gray yellow ooze ejected by the volcanoes of the north island 
and called "native porridge" by the English settlers (Lasch, p. 217). 

J. C. Crawford (Recollections of Travel in New Zealand, 1880, 
pp. 135, 139), who visited Lake Taupo, mentions mud springs the 
deposit from which is chiefly siliceous, and writes that the Maoris 
employ steam and mud springs for stewing food and the boiling 
springs for boiling it and for scalding pigs, but he does not say that 
this substance is eaten. 

No accounts of edible earth are available for the other Polynesian 
islands, but from a legend given by W. Ellis (Polynesian Researches, 
1, 1831, p. 68) it would appear that a kind of red earth was formerly 
consumed in Tahiti. The tradition in question is an attempt at ex- 
plaining the origin of the breadfruit. Under the reign of a certain 
king, when the people ate red earth (araea), there were a husband 
and wife who had an only son whom they tenderly loved. The 

Malaysia and Polynesia 135 

youth was weak and delicate; and one day the husband said to his 
wife, "I compassionate our son, he is unable to eat the red earth. I 
will die and become food for our son." He died, and from his organs 
planted in the ground sprang a breadfruit tree. The mother directed 
her son to gather a number of fruits, to take the first to the family 
god and to the king; to eat no more red earth, but to roast and eat 
the fruit of the tree growing before them. 

Earth is used by the Polynesians for industrial purposes. Red 
ochre is found in several islands, and in Rurutu and some others its 
color is so strong as to enable the people to form a bright red pig- 
ment for staining or painting their doors, window-shutters, canoes, 
and mixed with lime, the walls of their houses (Ellis, I, p. 24). This 
presents another example for the fact that industrial utilization of 
earth does not necessarily lead to earth-eating. 


R. Bruce (Annual Report on British New Guinea from 1899 to 
1900, p. 102, Brisbane, 1901) saw white clay eaten in New Guinea. 
The cakes looked like white sausages, with a string running through 
their center which joined a lot together. After many inquiries as to 
the use of this clay he found that it was scraped down with a shell 
and used as a relish to food. He tasted it and fancied that it contained 
arsenic. He adds that "many natives of Torres Straits and New 
Guinea eat red-fat earth which contains iron; the women of the 
Straits eat it when pregnant so as to make the child light-skinned, 
etc." W. N. Beaver (Unexplored New Guinea, p. 144, Philadelphia, 
1920), alluding to the report of Bruce (he locates the edible white 
clay at Tapamone on the Bituru River), writes that this clay is also 
found near Sui, a small village near the mouth of the estuary; there 
are one or two villages located on the northwestern side on Mount 
Lamington in the valley of the Kumusi River, the inhabitants of 
which are clay-eaters and invariably carry supplies of this "food" 
about them. In fact, from all accounts they pine away when deprived 
of it. 

R. Neuhauss (Deutsch Neu-Guinea, I, 1911, p. 275) informs us, 
"Everywhere in Kaiser- Wilhelmsland [former German New Guinea] 
the blacks eat earth; it is an exceedingly fine-grained gray, yellow, 
or reddish material. In Bukaua the gray white clay comes from the 
mouth of the Bulesom; it is eaten, without special preparation, 
mainly by pregnant women. At the Sattelberg it is a reddish, fer- 
ruginous clay which is taken in a dried state. At Sissanu this delicacy 
has a gray yellow color, and is swallowed without further prepara- 
tion. These clays are devoid of any nutritive values, but are agree- 
able in taste, especially the clay from the Sattelberg." 

L. M. d'Albertis (New Guinea: What I did and what I saw, II, 
1881, p. 89) writes that a red clay is chewed and even eaten by some 
of the people of Hall Sound and that he found this red clay. 

Edible clays were located by P. Wirz (Die Marind-anim, pt. 1, 
1922, p. 96) in Dutch Southern New Guinea. He describes them as 
gray or yellowish white and of acid taste. According to appearance, 
flavor, or origin various sorts are distinguished; they are partially 
much appreciated and used for barter. A white clay found and dug 
near Senajo is especially popular. It serves both as a cosmetic for 
painting face and body and as a relish. When the people of Senajo 
visit the coast, they will bring this clay along and exchange it with 


Melanesia and Australia 137 

the people of the coast. Another gray, recent marine clay, called 
dave, occurs in many places on the beach; it has likewise an acid 
flavor and is said to be good for the stomach; it is particularly eaten 
by expectant mothers. At Mevi Wirz saw a pregnant woman fashion 
this clay into loaves and dry these in the sun; she stated that con- 
sumed they are good for the foetus and must be eaten daily till the 
day of delivery. Wirz also refers to Bali where an edible clay found 
in the western part of the island is offered for sale in the bazars and 
is likewise enjoyed by the pregnant. 

0. Finsch (Samoafahrten, 1888, pp. 295, 346) observed edible 
clay on the north coast of what then was Kaiser- Wilhelmsland 
(now Australian mandated territory) ; it was offered in the shape of 
flat cakes 20 cm wide and perforated in the center for the passage of 
a cord. 

The title of the brief article of Meigen (see Bibliography) is 
misleading, for the edible earth analyzed by him did not come from 
New Guinea, but from New Mecklenburg. According to a communi- 
cation of Dr. Hahl, then governor of German New Guinea, this 
sample came from Lakurefange on the east side of New Mecklen- 
burg, and the natives ascribe to it healing powers in stomach and 
intestinal troubles. It is a fat clay of ochre yellow color, a terra 
rossa, of a camphor-like odor and of a not disagreeable spicy flavor. 

E. Stephan and F. Graebner (Neu-Mecklenburg, 1907, p. 10) 
mention the eating of earth in New Mecklenburg with reference 
to the Gazelle Expedition of 1874-76, but offer no more recent 

In New Caledonia geophagy was formerly widely practised, and 
partially it is still in vogue. As early as the eighteenth century it is 
reported by Labillardiere (Account of a Voyage in Search of La 
Perouse, II, p. 213), who visited New Caledonia in 1793. The 
natives approached the ship's landing-place and received bits of bis- 
cuit for which they asked. He then gives the following interesting 
account: "I saw, however, one of them come up who already had 
his stomach well filled, but who nevertheless ate in our presence a 
lump of a very soft steatite of a greenish color and as big as his 
two fists. We afterwards saw a number of others eat quantities 
of the same sort of earth. It serves to deaden the sense of hunger 
by filling their stomach, thus supporting the viscera attached to 
the diaphragm; and although this substance does not afford any 
nutritious juice, it is yet very useful to these people, who must be 
often exposed to be long in want of food, for they apply themselves 
little to the culture of their lands, which besides are very sterile. 

138 Geophagy 

It is to be remarked that undoubtedly the inhabitants of New Cale- 
donia have made choice of the steatite only because from its great 
friability it does not remain long in their stomach and intestines. 
I should never have imagined that cannibals would have recourse 
to such an expedient when pressed by hunger." 

Vauquelin, the chemist, found in this steatite from New Cale- 
donia a not inconsiderable proportion of oxid of copper. In the 
northern parts of the island steatite occurs abundantly in the 
ancient slate formation. According to some authors, earth is merely 
eaten in times of scarcity to appease hunger; according to others, 
only women take it in doses of the size of a hazel-nut, and children 
imitate the practice. Among the people of Tiari, near Baladea, 
Gamier found a few geophagists, but only women who he says were 
prompted by a morbid craving to eat but a little earth, which is 
insipid in taste and is called by them pagute (Globus, XIII, 1868, 
p. 102). Lemire mentions balls of steatite which are dissolved in the 
saliva and have a somewhat sweetish flavor (F. Sarrasin, Ethnologie 
der Neu-Caledonier, 1929, p. 64). 

According to Glaumont (Revue d'ethnographie, VII, 1888, 
pp. 85-86, not cited by Sarrasin), the inhabitants of New Caledonia 
chew a friable grayish earth found on the sides of the mountains. 
This author holds that the custom of earth-eating is on the same 
level as betel-chewing or opium and tobacco smoking. Sarrasin 
was informed by a native of the isle of Baaba in the north of Cale- 
donia that baskets full of gray soft earth were collected there. He 
refers to another account that women on the march finished a whole 
basketful of earth, giving preference to it to real food. As steatite 
is not found everywhere in the island, many tribes must be content 
with clayish and marly minerals. This is also the case in the Loyalty 
Islands which consist merely of chalk. In a cave near La Roche on 
Mare\ Sarrasin found weathered yellow marl of which the natives 
told him that it is crushed and eaten, particularly by women, as a 
dainty; red earth, too, they said, is eaten there after it has been 
burnt. This seems to refer to the weathered product of chalk which 
is colored red by iron. 

V. de Rochas (La Nouvelle Catedonie, 1862, p. 140) reports 
that in the Loyalty Islands people eat an aluminous earth full 
of organic detritus, which is gathered in caves abounding in 
humus and which is kneaded into hard balls; these are dissolved 
in the saliva without leaving a bad taste. Sarrasin thinks that this 
substance may contain a trace of nutritive value, which is not the 
case with steatite, marl, and clay. 

Melanesia and Australia 139 

Earth is eaten in North Santo and Malekula in the New Heb- 
rides. This is a tough, dark brown clay apparently mixed with 
organic substances and particularly coveted by pregnant women. 
In East Santo it is said to be flattened out like a biscuit and dried 
in the smoke. In Malekula the earth is shaped into small balls 
which are dried and sucked like a sweet-meat; the clay has indeed 
a sweetish flavor (F. Speiser, Ethnographische Materialien aus den 
Neuen Hebriden, 1923, p. 133). 

Some authors, quite in general, assign geophagy to aboriginal 
Australia. It seems certain that it occurs among some tribes, but 
not among others. The following specific cases have come to my 

R. Brough Smyth (The Aborigines of Victoria, I, 1878, 
p. XXXIV) writes, "There is nothing in the records relating to 
Victoria respecting the use of any earth for the purpose of appeasing 
hunger; but Grey mentions that one kind of earth, pounded and 
mixed with the root of the mene (a species of Haemodorum), is eaten 
by the natives of West Australia." Seven or eight species of this 
genus occur in Australia, all of them furnishing roots which are eaten 
by the natives; they are acrid when raw, but mild when roasted (E. L. 
Sturtevant, Notes on Edible Plants, p. 297). The case therefore 
is analogous to what is found among the Ainu, Porno, and Hopi. 

The aborigines of Queensland use huge clay or mud pills, one or 
two of which at a time are prescribed for diarrhoea (W. E. Roth, 
Ethnological Studies among the North- West-Central Queensland 
Aborigines, 1897, p. 163). 

E. Eylmann (Die Eingeborenen der Kolonie Sudaustralien, 1908, 
p. 448) mentions medicinal employment of earth, ashes, and sand; 
women rub their breasts with a pap made of gypsum for the pur- 
pose of causing a secretion of milk. 


In India clay is generally eaten by women and children, rarely 
by men; by women usually during the period of menstruation and 
pregnancy, by others habitually at all times. 

Examinations and analyses of Indie edible clays have been 
conducted by Ehrenberg (I pp. 116-177) and by Hooper and 
Mann (pp. 260-263). 

The fact that clay is eaten in India was known in Europe early 
in the nineteenth century. Curiously enough, the edible clay of 
India was then designated "clay of the Mogol." G. I. Molina 
(Saggio sulla storia naturale del Chili, 1810, p. 50), therefore, wrote 
at that time that the Peruvian women are in the habit of eating 
pottery sherds as the Mogol women eat the dishes of Patna (como 
le Mogolesi mangiano il vasellame di Patna). This Indie pottery 
is described as being gray in color with a yellow tinge, known under 
the name "earth of Patna" and found principally in the environ- 
ment of Seringapatnam. From this clay were manufactured vases 
so light in weight and so delicate in shape that "a breath from one's 
mouth was sufficient to turn them upside down on the table." 
Water poured into these vessels assumed a pleasant flavor and 
odor; and the ladies of India when they had emptied them would 
break them to pieces, swallowing the sherds with pleasure, especially 
in the period of maternity (Camilli, p. 188). 

The clay consumed by the women of Bengal is a fine, light 
ochreous-colored specimen fashioned into thin cups with a perfora- 
tion in the center and then baked in a kiln. In other words, it is 
ready-made pottery which they consume and which emits a curious 
smoky odor. It is this particular odor which makes it such a favor- 
ite with delicate women. The cups are strung on a cord and sold 
by the potters at so many pieces for one pice. Formerly these cups 
were hawked about in the streets of Calcutta, but this is no longer 
customary. Such a street vendor of baked clay cups once figured in 
a Bengali play staged in a Calcutta theatre; she recommended her 
ware in a song, pointing out that her cups are well baked, crisp to 
eat and yet cheap, and that delicate ladies about to become mothers 
should buy them without delay, as eating them would bless them 
with sons (Mitra, p. 286). 

Saucer-shaped chips of partially baked clay are sold in the 
Calcutta bazar for eating (G. Watt, Commercial Products of India, 


India, Burma, and Siam 141 

1908, p. 330). Burnt earth is considered less injurious in India than 
fresh earth. 

The habit of clay-eating, though at present universal in India, 
cannot be proved to be of ancient date in that country. The 
earliest literary references to it, first pointed out by Mitra, occur in 
Kalidasa's Ragkuvamga. In one case, the question is of a queen 
who partakes of baked clay to render her breath fragrant and 
pleasing to her lord. In another case, the queen of Ayodhya, before 
giving birth to Raghu, feels a hankering for baked clay (Sanskrit 
katikd, Hindi khariya). Mallinatha, in his commentary to the 
poem, observes that it is well known that pregnant women eat 
earth. These allusions contain nothing that would warrant the 
belief that clay-eating then (fifth or sixth century a.d.) was a gen- 
eral and habitual practice. In Vedic literature, no reference is made 
to it, nor in the Arthacastra. In such encyclopaedic works, as 
Varahamihira's Brhat-Samhita, where we might expect to find a 
trace of it, it is not mentioned either. Likewise in the literature on 
alchemy it appears to be absent, as evidenced at least by Ray's 
"History of Hindu Chemistry." Notably the Chinese pilgrims who 
traveled in India have not recorded the practice. Also so keen an 
observer as Garcia da Orta maintains silence about it, and W. 
Ainslie, in his "Materia Indica" (1826), ignores it; no reference to 
it is made in early Portuguese and English accounts of India. While 
this negative evidence is not in any way conclusive, it must be 
admitted that the wide diffusion of geophagy, though sporadic 
cases are on record for earlier periods, is only the result of more or 
less recent times. 

In ancient prescriptions occurs earth from the roots of Jambu 
trees. This is a vegetable mold or black soil formed with decaying 
vegetal matter, such as is found in ponds and round the foot of 
trees (Hoernle, The Bower Manuscript, p. 149). A baked clod of 
clay with other ingredients was kept in water to relieve morbid 
thirst (ibid., p. 137). 

Indian physicians mention a kind of chlorosis (panduroga) as 
being caused by the consumption of earth (Jolly, Indische Medicin, 
p. 86, who unfortunately does not say which physicians, the older 
or more recent ones). 

The symptoms which appear in confirmed and habitual geopha- 
gists in India are usually reported as the face being unnaturally 
swollen or puffed, the abdomen distended, the limbs shrunk except 
at the joints which appear enlarged and are said to be painful. 

142 Geophagy 

Swelling-up of the face and abdomen may result from clay-eating 
for a period of twelve months. 

White-ants' nests constructed of soft, fine earth, generally of a 
reddish black color, are consumed in India in the same manner as 
in Africa. Coolies of Assam are disposed toward white-ant soil 
taken from the center of the nest, white ants themselves being 
included as a delicacy (Hooper and Mann, p. 257). Among the 
mountain tribes of Travancore the men, not the women, eat this 
earth with the ants inside the cells, sometimes adding honey to it. 
It is taken, not in small medicinal doses, but in rather large quanti- 
ties. No evil effects have been noticed to follow its use (ibid., p. 259). 

Steatite or soapstone ground to powder and mixed with flour 
has served in India as a regular famine food, in the same manner as 
in China (above, p. 124). 

Consumption of small quantities of earth from holy places is 
prevalent throughout India. Such sacred earth is supposed to have 
healing properties. The followers of the Vaishnava sect keep in 
their houses the earth of the sacred river Jumna. At the close of 
their daily worship, a pinch of this earth is placed on the tip of the 
tongue and swallowed. There is a hill a few miles from Madras; 
and one particular spot in it is considered sacred, and the earth 
found there is credited with miraculous, curative properties. Those 
who visit the hill on a pilgrimage take a handful of this earth along, 
making it into pills used for various internal disorders as occasion 
arises (Hooper and Mann, p. 259). 

He who is especially interested in the subject should not fail to 
read the valuable monograph of Hooper and Mann who have dealt 
with geophagy in India almost exhaustively. 

The following interesting case is reported by E. Thurston 
(Omens and Superstitions of Southern India, 1912, p. 38) : "Some 
years ago Mr. H. D. Taylor was called on to settle a boundary 
dispute between two villages in Jeypore under the following 
circumstances. As the result of a panchayat ('council meeting'), the 
men of one village had agreed to accept the boundary claimed by 
the other party if the head of their village walked round the bound- 
ary and eat earth at intervals, provided that no harm came to him 
within six months. The man accordingly perambulated the bound- 
ary eating earth, and a conditional order of possession was given. 
Shortly afterwards the man's cattle died, one of his children died 
of smallpox, and finally he himself died within three months. The 
other party then claimed the land on the ground that the earth- 

India, Burma, and Siam 143 

goddess had proved him to have perjured himself. It was urged in 
defence that the man had been made to eat earth at such frequent 
intervals that he contracted dysentery, and died from the effects of 

According to W. C. Smith (The Ao Naga Tribe of Assam, 1925, 
p. 33), "the Ao eat a whitish clay which they say is salty. The 
women use it more than the men. The Lakhers eat it and declare 
it can sustain a man without food for thirty-six hours, and women 
soon to become mothers are very fond of it." 

L. and C. Scherman (Im Stromgebiet des Irrawaddy, p. 55, 
Munchen, 1922), visiting a bazar at Yawnghwe in the Southern 
Shan States, found among the articles offered for sale also edible 
earth or more exactly gray, yellow and reddish clays. 

Among the Chin of Upper Burma it is customary to eat earth as 
a sign of swearing to tell the truth, and earth is administered to 
witnesses giving evidence in a criminal case. This is considered a 
very binding oath and more likely to extract the truth from a Chin 
than anything else (Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, 
I, pt. 1, p. 472, Rangoon, 1900). In a similar manner it was formerly 
customary among the Angami Naga tribe in rendering an oath to 
snatch up a handful of grass and earth, and after placing it on the 
head, to shove it into the mouth, chewing it and pretending to eat 
it (J. H. Hutton, The Angami Nagas, 1921, p. 146; cf. also J. P. 
Mills, The Lhota Nagas, 1922, p. 103). 

In Siam, it is said, people consume steatite which consists of 
65.6 per cent silic acid, 30.8 per cent magnesia, and 3.6 per cent 
oxid of iron (Altheer, p. 90). 

N. Annandale (Fasciculi Malayenses, Anthr., pt. II, p. 62) has 
observed that both Malay and Siamese women eat a kind of earth 
dug out of the banks of a river and roasted; this is administered as 
a tonic. 


The Tibetan Kanjur contains a translation of the Buddhistic 
work Vinayavastu in which is embodied a curious story concerning 
the earlier periods of the world. In the course of these supposed 
periods a gradual deterioration of man and his foodstuffs is believed 
to have taken place. First there was the "sap of the earth" (Tibetan 
sa-i bcud, Sanskrit prthivirasa) of excellent color, fragrance, and 
flavor, in color resembling butter, in taste like honey. The bodies 
of the spiritual beings who partook of this substance waxed hard 
and heavy and lost their fine luster, whereupon darkness arose in 
the world. Then originated sun, moon, and stars, and in conse- 
quence day, night, months, and years. Men subsisted on that 
earthly food and reached a high old age. Those who consumed but 
little were beautiful in appearance, but those who ate too much of 
it were ugly. The former grew haughty and despised the ugly. 
The sap of the earth vanished in the wake of this quarrel, and was 
replaced with an "earth grease or oil" (Tibetan sa-i lag, Sanskrit 
prthivi-parvataka, Mongol gadzar-un tosun, "earth oil or butter"), 
which served as food. The same happens as previously, and the 
earth oil disappears to give way to vegetable foods. This legend 
has first been excerpted from the Kanjur by A. Schiefner (Uber die 
Verschlechterungsperioden der Menschheit nach buddhistischer 
Anschauungsweise. Bull, histor.-philol. de FAcademie de St.-P£ters- 
bourg, IX, No. 1, 1851). 

A kind of eatable clay is reported from Tibet by Ma Shao-yun 
and Sheng Mei-k'i in their Wei Ts'ang t'u shi, an account of Tibet 
written in 1792. Near the monastery rDo-rje-'dra, not far from 
the celebrated temples of bSam-yas (southeast of Lhasa), there is 
a mountain with a cavern containing an eatable white clay, which 
has a taste like tsamba ("roasted barley-flour," the staple food of 
the Tibetans). Whenever clay is removed, it will grow again. The 
cavern must be entered with candles. Behind it there is a large lake 
(Bitchourin and Klaproth, Description du Tubet, pp. 131-132; 
Rockhill, J.R.A.S., 1891, p. 267). According to Rockhill, this clay 
is styled sa rtsam-pa ("earth tsamba"). 

Earth is also used as a medicine in Tibet; sa smug is a dark red 
earth employed medicinally. 

The Mongol chronicler Sanang Setsen relates in regard to 
Oljai Ilduchi, who lived toward the end of the sixteenth century, 


Central Asia and Siberia 145 

that he and his army, while on a warlike expedition, suffered from 
want of food, and were compelled to sustain their lives by eating 
of a stone, called barkilda (I. J. Schmidt, Geschichte der Ost-Mon- 
golen, p. 217). The editor and translator of Sanang Setsen's work 
remarks (p. 413) that he does not feel certain whether this eatable 
stone or earth is identical with the Siberian "stone butter" described 
by Pallas. He also alludes to the earth eaten by certain tribes of 
South America. Nothing can directly be inferred from the Mongol 
term, which is isolated in this passage and is not known otherwise. 
Golstunski, at least, with reference to this word in his Mongol- 
Russian Dictionary, cites solely the text here in question. The 
word barkilda, which cannot be derived from any known Mongol 
stem, and which does not occur in Turkish, means also "aerolith," 
and is correlated with Tibetan ka-tu or ke-tu (that is, Sanskrit ketu) . 
It may be, therefore, that the stone mentioned by Sanang Setsen 
was believed to be of celestial origin. It certainly is not identical 
with the "stone butter" of Siberia, which is a substance of vitriolic 
origin, first described, as far as I know, by P. J. von Strahlenberg 
(Das nord- und ostliche Theil von Europa und Asia, 1730, p. 384). 

P. S. Pallas (Reise durch verschiedene Provinzen des russischen 
Reiches, II, 1771, pp. 88, 656, 697; III, 1776, p. 258) found this 
"stone butter" in the Ural, near Tomsk, on the Yenisei and the 
Chilok. He explains it as plume alum or stone alum, a white yellow- 
ish substance of vitriolic origin flowing out of slate. Some inhabi- 
tants of Tomsk boiled from it an impure yellow vitriol which assumed 
a sand-like hardened shape and which was sold on the market — for 
industrial purposes only, as, for example, for dyeing leather black 
(Strahlenberg). According to Pallas, the "proper natural stone 
butter" is not so frequently gathered that Tobolsk and other Siberian 
towns could be supplied with it. At Krasnoyarsk only it was offered 
for sale in abundant quantity, being collected in the neighborhood 
of the town. It is described by him as very white and light in weight; 
when burnt at a flame, it flows easily, and when boiled, it emits red 
vitriolic fumes, while a light, very white and savory earth remains. 
Several puds of this earth were annually collected and sent to Kras- 
noyarsk, where the pound sold at from fifteen to twenty kopeks. 
The common people used this substance chiefly as a remedy in cases 
of diarrhoea and dysentery or for copious bleeding of lying-in women 
(cf. also Pallas, Neue nordische Beitrage, V, 1793, p. 290). 

J. B. Miiller (Les moeurs et usages des Ostiackes, in Nouveaux 
Memoires sur l'£tat present de la Grande Russie ou Moscovie, II, 
p. 160, Amsterdam, 1725) writes, "On the highest mountains and 

146 Geophagy 

rocks of Siberia is found an extraordinary mineral called by the 
inhabitants of the country kamine masla or stone butter. The heat 
of the sun causes it to flow down the rocks to which it is attached 
as chalk to walls. It is dissolved in water like salt, and is as strong 
as vitriol. They attribute to it many virtues and use it in several 
diseases, especially in dysentery. I believe that we ought not to get 
accustomed to this remedy, and I know of no one who has ever made 
use of it." 

According to J. G. Georgi (Bemerkungen einer Reise im russi- 
schen Reiche im Jahre 1772, St. Petersburg, 1775), the stone or rock 
butter served also as a specific against syphilis. He reports also that 
there is in Kamchatka near the river Olontora and in several other 
localities a lithomarge clay which both the Tungusian tribes and the 
Russians eat, either alone or dissolved in water or milk. This sub- 
stance, he concludes, produces in those people merely a light con- 
stipation which perhaps is wholesome to them in the spring when 
they eat an abundance of fish, which will cause diarrhoea. Georgi 
informs us also that in the countries located between the Volga, 
Kama, and Ural there is a sort of powdered plaster termed by the 
inhabitants "rock flour" or "celestial flour." This substance was 
mixed with flour in times of scarcity, but those who ate such bread 
almost always experienced fatal effects. 

The Sungar picked up earth during earthquakes which do not 
infrequently occur around the Altai mountains, and placed it on the 
tongue of a parturient woman, believing that it was a good means of 
expediting birth and expelling the after-birth (P. S. Pallas, Samlungen 
histor. Nachrichten iiber die mongolischen Vblkerschaften, I, p. 166). 

G. W. Steller, in his famous "Beschreibung von dem Lande 
Kamtschatka" (1774, pp. 72, 324), speaks of Sory officinarum or so- 
called Siberian kamenna masla ("stone butter") and a soft bolus 
earth which tastes like cream and which is eaten; the latter he calls 
semlanoi smetana ("earth sour cream"). Like the Tungus around 
Okhotsk, he continues, the Italmen and Koryak eat a kind of fine 
white clay which looks like cream and which is not devoid of an 
agreeable flavor, but is at the same time astringent. According to 
A. Erman (Zeitschrift filr Ethnologie, III, 1871, p. 150), who him- 
self visited Kamchatka, the so-called flowing clay or earth cream (i.e. 
the gelatinous detritus of a trachytic rock) was eaten there but ex- 
ceptionally and only in certain places. 

Mr. I. Lopatin, who has devoted many years of his life to inves- 
tigations of the native tribes of eastern and northeastern Siberia, 

Central Asia and Siberia 147 

kindly informs me that in his experience clay-eating is not practised 
by any of these, but that some Tungusian tribes, such as the Oroche, 
Udekhe, and Olcha make use of clay as a medicine. He did not 
observe this practice, however, among the Golde with whom he is 
particularly familiar and to whom he has devoted a very interesting 
monograph. "Many times during my expeditions into the countries 
of these peoples," Mr. Lopatin writes me, "I saw small pieces of clay 
fashioned into cakes, about one and a half inch square and a quarter 
of an inch thick, and suspended from the roofs of their huts. On two 
occasions I watched the preparation of these clay cakes. An Udekhe 
woman made a sort of dough of the clay, and after having kneaded 
it well, she turned out two or three dozens of cakes somewhat 
resembling American crackers. When these clay crackers were suffi- 
ciently dried, she perforated each piece in the center and on both 
sides made four rows of cavities by pressing, about four or five in a 
row, whereupon she strung the cakes through the perforations in the 
center and suspended them under the roof of the hut. On another 
occasion I saw a man of the same tribe make such cakes which were 
of the same size and shape as previously. He said that a particular 
kind of clay, which is yellowish gray in color, must be used for this 
purpose. The clay cakes must be thoroughly dried before being con- 
sumed. They are kept under the roof for at least five or six months 
and in fact for two or three years before they are ready for use. 
Udekhe, Oroche, and Olcha believe that these cakes are very helpful 
in stomachic troubles and diarrhoea. In the event of such complaint 
these cakes are taken internally for a period of six or seven days. 
I wish to stress the point that these clay cakes are but seldom eaten 
by these people and exclusively as a remedy in case of illness." 

It is certainly possible that this remedy is apt to stop diarrhoea; 
it is so employed elsewhere, for instance, in Sumatra (Heringa, 
p. 186), and as has been stated, by the natives of Queensland in Aus- 
tralia (above, p. 139). In our own time powdered clay has been 
recommended as a remedy for cholera (Berliner Klinische Wochen- 
schrift, 1905, p. 750), and clay pills have been used for hemorrhoids 
(Hahneman, Chronic Diseases, II; Hooper and Mann, p. 269). 

During his excavations conducted in Kamchatka in 1910-11 W. 
Jochelson (Archaeological Investigations in Kamchatka, p. 66, 
Carnegie Institution, 1928) found pieces of white clay in some of the 
excavations of dwellings, which he is inclined to think was eaten by 
the inhabitants. He refers to Krasheninnikow's "Description of 
Kamchatka" as mentioning white clay as a remedy for diarrhoea. 

148 Geophagy 

The edition consulted by him is the third in Russian, published at 
St. Petersburg, 1818. I have a German edition of this work (Lemgo, 
1766) in which this passage is not contained, neither in the chapter 
on Diseases and Remedies nor in the chapter on Food and Drinks 
of the Kamchadal; in discussing the different kinds of earth found 
in Kamchatka (p. 97) no reference is made either to clay-eating. 
Of course I do not doubt that in the edition consulted by Jochelson 
the passage in question is contained, but what I venture to call into 
doubt is that the clay pieces found by him in the deserted dwellings 
were really intended for internal medicinal use. Unfortunately, 
Jochelson has neglected to state the essential point, and this is, of 
what shape these clay pieces were, whether they were shaped into 
a certain form by human hand or just odd pieces in their natural 
state. If, for instance, they were like the clay cakes described by 
Lopatin, this would constitute sufficient evidence for his conclusion; 
but if not artificially fashioned in some way or other, the hypothesis 
is not convincing, or the case remains at least doubtful. 

According to W. Bogoras (The Chukchee, p. 200, Jesup North 
Pacific Expedition, VII, 1904), "the Reindeer Chukchee as well as 
the Lamut and the Koryak in Kamchatka occasionally use as food 
a kind of white clay, which is called 'earth fat' (nute-echen). This, 
of course, is eaten only in moderate quantities, mixed with broth or 
with reindeer-milk." If this be true, the clay consumed cannot, of 
course, be designated as a food, but is rather a condiment added 
to articles of food. 

L. J. Sternberg (The Gilyak, Ethnograficheskie Obozrdnie, 1905, 
p. 17) mentions a dish of the Gilyak consisting of the gluey broth 
of fish-skins, seal's fat, berries, rice, and sometimes of minced 
dried fish, being mixed with dissolved white clay; this dish is favorite 
for treating guests. 

H. von Siebold (Ethnol. Studien iiber die Ainos, 1881, p. 37, 
Suppl. Z. Ethn.) was told that the Ainu occasionally eat a clay 
mixed with herbs and roots; he had no occasion to see this himself. 
Hooper and Mann (p. 251), without citing any source, assert, 
"Among the Ainu, the aborigines of Japan, there is a kind of clay 
which is eaten to a considerable extent, mixed with fragments of the 
leaves of a plant and used as an ingredient in the preparation of soup. 
The clay occurs in a bed in the valley of Tsie-tonai ('eat-earth valley') 
on the north of the coast of Yezo. It is of light-gray color and fine 
consistency, and is consumed, not as a matter of necessity, but be- 
cause it is believed to contain some beneficial ingredient." The 
above name should be written Chi-e-tonai; chi means "earth," e "to 

Central Asia and Siberia 149 

eat"; but a word tonai is not given in the Ainu Dictionaries of 
Batchelor and Dobrotvorski. In the works of J. Batchelor, the best 
informed authority on the Yezo Ainu, no reference is made to con- 
sumption of earth in a pure state, nor have I learned anything to 
this effect among the Saghalin Ainu. This, of course, does not mean 
that the habit does not exist, or might not formerly have existed. 
There is, however, an Ainu practice recorded by Batchelor which 
offers a striking parallel with what is found among the Porno and 
Hopi, as well as among the natives of western Australia (above, 
p. 138). 

The bulbs of Corydalis ambigua (Ainu toma, Japanese engosaku) 
are extensively eaten by the Ainu, especially those in the Ishikari 
valley of Saghalin Island and in the southern Kuriles. The bulb has 
a slightly bitter taste which is removed by repeated boilings in 
water. In Etorup, the Ainu boil the bulbs with a certain kind of 
earth to remove its bitterness. They are eaten either simply boiled 
or mixed with rice. In Saghalin, it is said, they are cooked generally 
with the fat of seals (J. Batchelor and K. Miyabe, Ainu Economic 
Plants, No. 48, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, XXI, 
1893, p. 215). The Ainu also feed on acorns (ibid., No. 108) which 
are usually boiled and occasionally roasted, but earth is not applied 
to these as by the Porno and the peasants of Sardinia. 

The Ainu have traditions of famines in early times when people 
were dying from want of food, and this seems to be one of their 
typical forms of legend two of which are recorded by J. Batchelor 
(Specimens of Ainu Folk-lore, Transactions of the Asiatic Society of 
Japan, XVI, 1888, pp. 112-122). In these no allusion is made to 
earth-eating; in fact, no famine food is mentioned. It is known, 
however, that the ancient Ainu subsisted a great deal upon the stem 
and leaves of the mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) which has been the 
means of keeping them alive throughout more than one famine (J. 
Batchelor and K. Miyabe, Ainu Economic Plants, No. 78). 

In mixing earth with certain foodstuffs there is agreement 
between the Ainu, Gilyak, and Chukchi; and this perhaps may be 
regarded as an ancient feature of the culture of the Palaeo-Asiatic 
tribes. Considering the further fact that earth is still eaten by 
Tungusian tribes and that a certain kind was consumed by the 
ancient Kamchadal, there is a continuous area in northeastern 
Siberia for the practice of earth-eating. It will be seen that this 
continues in points of the far north of North America. 


One of the infernal punishments of the Parsis was that a man, 
who used false measure and weight and who adulterated his mer- 
chandize, was compelled to eat dust and earth meted out to him 
on a scale (M. Haug, Uber das Ardai Viraf nameh, 1870, p. 25). 

Ibn al-Baitar (1197-1248), an Arabic scholar born at Malaga, 
Spain, and author of a famous work on pharmacology, discusses 
eight kinds of medicinal earth (L. Leclerc, Traite" des simples, II, 
1881, pp. 421-427; for a general appreciation of this work see Baron 
Carra de Vaux, Les penseurs de Flslam, II, 1921, pp. 289-296). 
The eight kinds are the terra sigillata, Egyptian earth, Samian 
earth, earth of Chios, Cimolean earth or pure clay (cimolite), earth 
of vines called ampelitis (Pliny XXXV, 56) or pharmakltis from 
Seleucia in Syria, Armenian earth, and earth of Nishapur. A great 
deal of the information given by the Arabic scholar is derived from 
Dioscorides and Galen. Earths used in medicine were but rarely 
taken internally, but usually applied locally; these cases, therefore, 
do not come within the subject of this monograph. Reference is 
made here only to Ibn al-Baitar's notes as far as they relate to 
earths administered internally. It appears that the sigillated earth, 
which will be more fully discussed under the heading "Europe," 
was regarded by Avicenna as an antidote and having the tendency 
to eject poisons from the system when taken before or after the act 
of poisoning. Under Cimolean Earth, Ali Ibn Mohammed is quoted 
as saying that this soft earth, called al-hurr, green in color like ver- 
digris, is smoked together with almond bark to serve as food when 
it will turn red and assume a good flavor and that it is but rarely 
eaten without being smoked. The Cimolean earth is named for 
Cimolus (Greek Kimolos), one of the Cyclades, also called Argen- 
tiera (cf. Dioscorides V, 175; Pliny XXXV, 57; E. Seidel, Mechithar, 
1908, No. 204). 

The Armenian earth (boje armenic), according to Ishak Ibn 
Amran, was salutary in cases of bubonic plague, being administered 
both externally and internally. The same is affirmed by Leo Afri- 
canus (in Ramusio, 4th ed., 1588, fol. 10b; French ed. by Schefer, 
I, p. 114) with reference to Barbary, save that there the Armenian 
earth was applied externally to the bubos. At present no longer 
used, this article (Latin bolus armena) was renowned in ancient 
times and extensively traded from Armenia, where it is abundant. 
It was introduced into medical practice by Galen (Seidel, Mechithar, 


Persians and Arabs 151 

No. 132). It is a soft earth, greasy to the touch, strongly adhering 
to the tongue, very fragile, generally of a yellowish brown color, 
sometimes of a fine flesh red. According to J. Chardin (Travels in 
Persia, ed. Sykes, p. 164), it also occurred abundantly in Persia, 
where it was especially used by women in washing their heads. 
According to W. Ainslie (Materia Indica, I, 1826, p. 43), it was 
brought from the Persian Gulf to India, where the Tamul practi- 
tioners prescribed it as an astringent in fluxes of long standing and 
supposed it to have considerable efficacy in correcting the state of 
the humors in cases of malignant fever. Its constituent parts, 
according to Ainslie, are silica 47 per cent, alumina 19 per cent, 
magnesia 6.20 per cent, lime 5.40 per cent, iron 5.40 per cent, 
water 7.50 per cent. 

The most celebrated of all edible clays was that found near 
Nishapur in Persia. The Arabic historian al-Ta'alibi (a.d. 961- 
1038), who calls it al-naql, writes that it occurred exclusively at 
Nishapur and was exported from Zauzan into all quarters of the 
globe to places near and distant; a rati of this clay was sometimes 
valued at a dinar in Egypt and in the Maghreb (E. Wiedemann, 
Zur Mineralogie im Islam, Sitzber. phys.-med. Soz. Erlangen, 1912, 
p. 242). According to Edrisi (Jaubert, G^ographie, I, pp. 452, 454), 
there was two days' journey from Canein, or Cain, on the road lead- 
ing to Nishapur, a kind of brilliant white clay, called tin el-mehaji 
and exported for purposes of consumption to distant regions. The 
same fact is mentioned by Ibn Haukal (W. Ouseley, Oriental Geo- 
graphy of Ebn Haukal, 1800, p. 223). 

Ibn al-Baitar devotes much space to the clay of Nishapur, 
chiefly relying upon Ali Ibn Mohammed and the celebrated physi- 
cian Mohammed Ibn Zakkariya al-Razi (i.e. born at Rei, the 
ancient Rhages), known as Razes, of the tenth century. This clay 
is described as being white, of an agreeable taste, taken either in 
its natural state or roasted. It is sweet to the taste, and soils the 
lips on account of its great softness; on the other hand, it is said 
that its flavor is somewhat saline, but that exposed to a fire it will 
lose this saline property and grow sweet. There are people who 
pound it and soften it with rose-water and a little camphor and who 
then shape this compound into bread loaves, tablets, or other forms. 
Others scent the clay with musk, camphor, or some other aromatic, 
and thus take it after having indulged in wine to perfume their 
breath and to assuage the heat of the stomach. 

According to Razes, the clay of Nishapur fortifies the heart and 
combats nausea. It stops vomiting (or is used as an anti-emetic) 

152 Geophagy 

and especially counteracts nausea provoked by sugared and greasy 
foods. Razes holds that the Nishapur clay is not apt to cause 
obstructions in the reins and bladder, as it happens with other clays. 
In his "Treatise on Clays" Razes tells an interesting story of how 
he cured an individual seized by a very grave choleric affection 
accentuated by violent fits of vomiting and cramps. The usual 
remedies were of no avail; he administered to the patient powdered 
Nishapur clay in doses of thirty drams, three times, twice in a 
decoction of sweet apples and once in a decoction of sweet rush 
(Andropogon schoenanthus) , and his nausea and indigestion were 
immediately relieved. What was still more marvelous was that the 
patient found himself stronger and merrier than before as though 
the medicine had nourished him. 

Razes further maintains that he employed Nishapur clay in 
treating affections of the stomach, as well as in cases of nausea and 
indigestion caused immediately after a meal. This convinced him 
that it was necessary to administer a small dose of clay after a meal, 
which relieved the indigestion, chills in the abdomen, and the tend- 
ency to vomit. He considers Nishapur clay as a capital remedy for 
the treatment of affections of the stomach especially with patients 
who apparently have no obstruction of the liver or contraction of 
the bowels. In these cases this remedy is rarely harmful; on the 
contrary, it seems that the body gains weight. He administered 
this clay also to individuals who suffered from a considerable secre- 
tion of saliva and to all patients seized by a ravenous appetite — all 
these were radically cured. 

The modest and unadorned report of Razes inspires confidence 
and merits full credence. 

At present, the habit of clay-eating is widely diffused over Persia. 
It has developed into a passion among those people who have taken 
to it, and these swallow considerable quantities of clay. The habit 
extends to both sexes, notably to women, and is said to be restricted 
to common people, while it is rare among the better classes. The 
reasons advanced by the people are that "it tastes well" and "sati- 
ates their hunger." The clay fiends are characterized by leanness 
and sallow, earth-like complexion. Edible clays form a not unim- 
portant article of trade, and are sold in the bazars of most cities. 
Two edible clays are especially reputed — one traded from Kirman 
and called ghel-i-giveh, and another from Kum under the name ghel- 
mahallat. The two sorts have been analyzed and described by Goebel 
(see also Ehrenberg I p. 184; II p. 36). According to Goebel, these 
clays contain no nutritive substances, but some agents which have 

Persians and Arabs 153 

an effect on the nervous system. Their action is mechanical, not 
chemical. They leave the organism without exerting a disturbing 
influence on the composition of the blood in case indulgence has not 
been excessive. Tietze (Die Mineralreichtiimer Persiens, Jahrbuch 
der k.k. geol. Reichsanstalt Wien, 1879, p. 654) gives an analysis 
of three kinds of earth from Persia. 

J. L. Schlimmer (Terminologie m£dico-pharmaceutique francais- 
persane, p. 299, Teheran, 1874) writes that "geophagy is a general 
habit among the women of Persia, even when they are not pregnant. 
The Persian physicians attribute this 'idiosyncrasy' to the presence 
of intestinal worms, which for the rest is far from being proved. 
Among young children, however, this particular habit is often con- 
nected with the existence of intestinal worms, and in this case vermi- 
fuges administered in small doses continued for a long time and the 
simultaneous use of wine will overcome this 'depraved appetite' ; but 
a cure becomes difficult in cases where geophagy is the concomitant 
symptom of scrophulous diathesis when the young patients assume 
a cachectic appearance, which is quite characteristic of their 

Polak (Persien, II, p. 273) observes that the Persians have trained 
their taste to such an extent that they discriminate between various 
kinds of clay without hesitation. 

An earthy, soap-like substance that the natives term chunniah is 
obtained from lakes not far from Halla. It is largely eaten by the 
women of Sind (J. Wood, Journey to the Source of the River Oxus, 
1872, p. 19). In Lasch's article (p. 220) this chunniah has been 
transformed into tschamiah. 

Hajaj, a military officer, who served under the Caliph Abdul 
Malik (a.d. 685-705), was in the habit of eating clay. Determined 
to wean himself from this habit, he consulted Theodocus (Theodunus 
or Tiaduq), a renowned physician, as to the proper remedy. "The 
will of a man of your mold," Theodocus responded. Hajaj then 
ceased to eat clay (L. Leclerc, Histoire de la m£decine arabe, I, 
1876, p. 83). 

As in China, earth-eating was also connected with religious 
beliefs among the Arabs and the Mohammedans of India. Hooper 
and Mann (p. 259) inform us that dust from the tomb of the prophet 
is an auspicious article, said to be a cure for every disease. Accord- 
ing to E. W. Lane (Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, 
5th ed., I, p. 323), who received such specimens from a Mecca pil- 
grim, they come in oblong, flat cakes of a grayish earth, each about 

154 Geophagy 

an inch in length and stamped with an Arabic inscription, "In the 
name of Allah! Dust of our land [mixed] with the saliva of some of 
us." They are alleged to be composed of earth obtained from the 
surface of the grave of the Prophet and to be a cure for every disease, 
and are sold at Mecca. A cake of this kind is sometimes worn as an 
amulet in a leather case. It is also formed into lumps of the size 
and shape of a pear, and is suspended from the railing which sur- 
rounds the monument erected over the grave of a saint. 

Sir Richard Burton (Pilgrimage to Al-Madineh and Mecca, I, 
p. 415) found in Arabia a yellow loam or bole being eaten by anaemic 
women. It was used as a soap in some parts of the East, and was 
supposed to have some miraculous properties owing to the Prophet 
having employed it with success as a medical agent. 

In 1612 William Lithgow visited the cave near Bethlehem in 
which the Virgin Mary, at the time of the persecution of Herodes, 
took refuge, and gives this account (Totall Discourse of the Rare 
Adventures and Painefull Peregrinations, p. 247 of the edition 
reprinted at Glasgow, 1906): "The earth of the cave is white as 
snow, and hath this miraculous operation, that a little of it drunke 
in any liquor, to a woman, that after her childbirth is barren of 
milke, shall forthwith give abundance: which is not onely availeable 
to Christians, but likewise to Turkish, Moorish, and Arabianish 
women, who will come from farre countries, to fetch of this earth. 
I have seene the nature of this dust practised, wherefore I may 
boldly affirme it, to have the force of a strange vertue: Of the 
which earth I brought with me a pound weight, and presented the 
halfe of it to our sometimes Gracious Queene Anne of blessed mem- 
ory, with divers other rare relicts also, as a girdle, and a paire of 
garters of the Holy Grave, all richly wrought in silke and gold, hav- 
ing this inscription at every end of them in golden letters, Sancto 
Sepulchro, and the word Jerusalem, etc." 

The legend goes that the milk of the Virgin when she took refuge 
in that grotto spurted against the rock, and ever since this earth has 
been capable of increasing the milk of both women and animals. In 
the first place, of course, the question is here of earth-eating (cf . the 
analogous custom in Australia of using earth externally as a means 
of promoting lactation, above, p. 139). 

The Italian designation for diatomaceous earth, latte di luna 
("lunar milk"), may be connected with this belief (other Italian 
terms for it are agarico minerale and farina fossile). 

In an interesting study entitled "Mohammedan Saints and 
Sanctuaries in Palestine" (Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society, 

Persians and Arabs 155 

V, 1925, p. 188), T. Canaan writes, "Christians as well as Moham- 
medans use the soft whitish stones of the milk-grotto in Bethlehem 
to increase mothers' milk. The stones are rubbed in water and given 
to the nursing women. It is supposed that the holy family took 
refuge in this cave where a drop of Mary's milk fell to the floor." 

The same author reports that plaster, stones, and sweepings of 
many shrines are used medicinally. Some of the earth of a certain 
locality made with oil into a paste cures sores of the head. Earth 
gathered from another holy place is dissolved in water, and given to 
cattle will guard them against disease. Everything that belongs to or 
comes in contact with a saint or his shrine is believed to receive some 
of his power which may be transmitted to others. Thus the earth 
of a saint's tomb (likewise stones, water, grass and trees) is believed 
to possess supernatural power. 


T. F. Ehrmann (Geschichte der merkwiirdigsten Reisen, VII, 
1793, p. 70; after J. Matthew's Journey to Sierra Leone 1785-87) 
speaks of a white, soap-like earth found here and there in Sierra 
Leone and so fat that the Negroes frequently eat it with rice, because 
it melts like butter; it is also used for white- washing their houses. 
Ehrmann adds, "A curiosity which merits a closer investigation." 
The same clay was also reported by Golberry (1785-87) from Sene- 
gambia and described by him as a white, soap-like earth as soft as 
butter and so fat that the Negroes add it to their rice and other 
foods which thus become very savory. This clay is said not to 
injure the stomach (Lasch, p. 216). 

In the third edition of his "Ansichten der Natur" (1849, I, 
p. 167), A. von Humboldt writes, "In Guinea the Negroes eat a 
yellowish earth which they call caouac. When carried as slaves to the 
West Indies, they try to procure there a similar earth. They affirm 
that earth-eating is quite harmless in their home country. The 
caouac of the American islands, however, makes the slaves sick. 
Therefore, earth-eating was forbidden there, though in 1751 earth 
was secretly sold in the markets of Martinique. The Negroes of 
Guinea assert that in their country they eat habitually a certain clay 
whose flavor gratifies them without being harmed by it. Those 
addicted to eating caouac are so fond of it that no punishment can 
prevent them from swallowing earth." Humboldt's information is 
derived from Thibault de Chanvallon (Voyage a la Martinique, 
p. 85). 

Ehrenberg (II pp. 15, 53) has refuted the idea propounded by 
Thibault de Chanvallon that the Guinea Negroes generally and 
habitually eat a red earth, without endangering their health. Ehren- 
berg's conclusions are based on the observations of many mission- 
aries stationed at many points of the Gold and Slave Coasts during 
more than thirty years. On the whole, earth-eating occurs there but 
seldom, chiefly on the part of children and thoughtless persons. 
Ehrenberg (p. 19) has also analyzed a clay specimen from Cuba and 
arrived at the conclusion that the caouac substitute of the West 
Indies alleged to be so harmful does not appear to be more harmful 
than the earth of Guinea. 

In regard to the Congo region we are well informed by Catholic 
missionaries who have paid special attention to this subject. It is 
noteworthy that geophagy prevails among some tribes of the Congo 


Africa 157 

and is absent among others. F. Gaud (Les Mandja, p. 151, Brussels, 
1911) writes, "At the present time it is only during famines that the 
Mandja (in the French Congo) gather the earth of termites'-nests 
and consume it mixed with water and powdered tree-bark. This 
compound is said to assuage the tortures of hunger in a singular man- 
ner. We think that this effect must be attributed not only to the 
physical action resulting from the filling of the stomach, but also 
to the absorption of organic products existing in the clay. It is in 
fact known that the walls of the termites'-nests are built by the 
female workers with tiny clay balls kneaded by them by means of 
their saliva. It would not be surprising that this saliva contains 
formic acid." 

The buildings of the great ants (Termes bellicosus) are constructed 
from red ferruginous clays in the shape of mushrooms (see illustra- 
tion in G. Schweinfurth, The Heart of Africa, I, p. 349). 

C. van Overbergh (Les Basonge, p. 151) gives the following 
information: "The Baluba frequently eat pembe or white earth. 
Result: appalling leanness and swelling of the abdomen. Pregnant 
women do not eat white earth. In general women eat earth; I have 
never seen men eat it, but I do not guarantee that men will not eat 
it. Another observer, Michaud, states that he saw men and women 
alike eat earth. It appears that a person who has once tasted this 
earth becomes infatuated with it, but dies in consequence." 

Another missionary among the Baluba, R. P. Colle (Les Baluba, 
Congo beige, I, p. 131), states, "A certain number of children dis- 
play a very lively desire to eat the embers of the hearth and clay. 
It is that firm, fat, white and unctuous clay which serves for the 
manufacture of pottery. Perhaps they are driven to this by the 
need of salt. The embers in fact contain potash; and the clay in 
question, a slight quantity of magnesia. The result of this habit is 
the disease called le carreau." 

While among the Baluba, as stated, pregnant women do not con- 
sume earth, it is eaten by pregnant women of the Mayombe (C. 
van Overbergh, Les Mayombe, p. 121). 

"At Nouvelle-Anvers in the Belgian Congo, it is reported by 
eye-witnesses, can be procured for five Centimes the kilo a sort of 
clay of which the natives are very fond. This is a yellow earth of 
agreeable odor which contains silicic acid, oxid of aluminum, 
sodium, and a little iron" (C. van Oberbergh, Les Bangala, £tat 
indigene du Congo, p. 123). 

R. Schmitz (Les Baholoholo, Congo beige, p. 65) writes, "Earth 
is not alimentary. Once in a while one encounters a case of geo- 

158 Geophagy 

mania, a sick person who has a passion for the wall of a hut or an 
ants'-nest and who eats of it till he dies." 

On the other hand we read, "Not the slightest indication of 
geophagy among the Mangbetu, Mangbellet, and Mobadi" to which 
another observer adds, "Save among a few sick" (C. van Overbergh, 
Les Mangbetu, p. 181). 

"The Ababua does not eat any species of earth" (J. Halkin, Les 
Ababua, Congo beige, p. 151). "No case of geophagy exists among 
the Warega" (Delhaise, Les Warega, Congo beige, p. 87). 

According to Winwood Reade, the famous author of "The 
Martyrdom of Man," a white clay is frequently chewed or drunk in 
solution on the Gold Coast, the young people taking it as a sweet- 
meat, and the old people as a medicine (Journal Anthrop. Institute, 
X, 1881, p. 467). 

The following interesting account of geophagy with reference to 
the people of Batanga is given by W. L. Distant (Journal Anthrop. 
Institute, X, 1881, p. 467) :— 

"A somewhat curious instance of this custom came before me at 
Batanga in May, 1880; and subsequent inquiry has enabled me to 
throw some light upon it. From what I could gather while at Small 
Batanga, the custom seems to prevail all along the coast as far as 
the island of Corisco, where I believe it is also known, and perhaps 
it extends farther south. I met with it first at Babani, where there 
occurs a deposit of yellowish red clay, containing about 15 per cent 
of iron and a considerable quantity of mica and some quartz par- 
ticles, but there is evidently a large quantity of organic matter in it. 
This clay is made up into balls of about five inches in diameter, and 
baked over a slow fire. When quite dry and ready for use, a small 
portion is broken off, and placed in the hollow of any smooth leaf 
and reduced to powder between the finger and thumb. The leaf is 
then gently shaken in order to cause the harder and more gritty par- 
ticles to fall aside. These are carefully removed, and the residue, 
consisting of a fine powder, is transferred to the mouth, masticated, 
and swallowed. I was informed that the men use it while on a long 
journey, when they do not wish to stop in order to cook food. As, 
however, they travel far without carrying something in the way of 
provisions that can be eaten readily, this scarcely accounts ade- 
quately for the origin of the custom. Some inquiries made at 
Camaroons elicited the following additional information. The cus- 
tom is known there, but does not exist to the same extent, or in the 
same manner as at Batanga. The material used is a very dirty 

Africa 159 

earthy clay, with but little iron and no mica, and is derived from a 
deposit on the banks of the rivers. When baked in the sun, it 
becomes very hard; and, indeed, is sometimes used in the construc- 
tion of houses. The men sometimes, but seldom, eat it; but I am 
told the women, during the time of pregnancy, when they are sup- 
posed to be assailed by very unnatural appetites, use it largely. Is 
it the result of inheritance, or merely from the force of imitation, 
that the custom is almost universal among the Camaroons children? 
I am told that all of them eat it, even those belonging to the mission, 
who are well fed, and are strangers to the sensation of hunger. By 
way of test, I showed some of them a small piece of the Batanga 
earth. They looked at it for a moment as if to make sure of it, then 
eagerly besought me to give them some. I gave them what I had 
in my hand, and they greedily swallowed it, afterwards expressing 
a desire that, as the kind I had given them was so nice, they would 
like some more. These children had just supped, and their evident 
appreciation of the clay could, therefore, hardly be connected with 
hunger, and would seem to indicate an appetite, or at least a liking, 
however unnatural, not much related to the desire for food. One of 
those children, I was informed, usually took a piece of the clay to 
bed with her, but this child, though well-fed, was always hungry." 
The Negro slaves imported from West Africa to America con- 
tinued the habit of earth-eating, especially in the West Indies. P. 
Browne (Civil and Natural History of Jamaica, 1756, p. 64), who 
estimated the number of Negroes living in the island at that time at 
120,000 (p. 24), describes a peculiar sort of earth that runs in veins, 
and is chiefly found in marly beds. "It is of different colors," he 
writes, "but these generally answer to that of the layer wherein it 
is found; it is apparently smooth, and greasy, and somewhat cohe- 
sive in its nature; but dissolves easily in the mouth. The Negroes, 
who make frequent use of this substance, say, that it is sweetish; 
and many get a habit of eating it to such excess, that it often proves 
fatal to them. It is the most certain poison I have known, when 
used for any length of time; and often enters so abundantly into 
the course of the circulation, as to obstruct all the minute capillaries 
of the body; nay, has been often found concreted in the glands, and 
smaller vessels of the lungs, so far as to become sensibly perceptible 
to the touch. It breaks the texture of the blood entirely; and for 
many months before they die, a general languor affects the machine, 
and all the internal parts, lips, gums, and tongue, are quite pale, 
insomuch, that the whole mass of their juices seems to be no better 
than a waterish lymph. It is probable they are first induced to the 

160 Geophagy 

use of this substance (which is generally well known among them) 
to allay some sharp cravings of the stomach; either from hunger, 
worms, or an unnatural habit of body." 

It is even suggested that Negro and Indian slaves took to earth 
in despair as a means of slow suicide and that the Carib slaves ate 
earth whenever they were punished or mistreated (Ehrenberg II 
p. 16, after W. Irving, Columbus). What is more interesting to us is 
the ceremonial use of earth on the part of American Negroes. 

G. Hughes (Natural History of Barbados, 1750, p. 15), speaking 
of the ordeals of the Negroes of Barbados, writes, "They take a piece 
of earth from the grave of their nearest relations, or parents, if it can 
be had ; if not, from any other grave. This being mingled with water, 
they drink it, imprecating the divine vengeance to inflict an immedi- 
ate punishment upon them; but in particular, that the water and 
mingled grave-dust which they have drunk (if they are guilty of the 
crime) may cause them to swell, and burst their bellies. Most of 
them are so firmly persuaded that it will have this effect upon the 
guilty, that few, if any (provided they are conscious of the imputed 
crime), will put the proof of their innocency upon the experi- 

In the disease known as cachexia africana (mal d'estomac of the 
French), common among the Negroes of the West Indies and Guiana, 
an essential symptom is a generally depraved appetite and an un- 
governable determination to the eating of dirt. According to Cragin 
(p. 358), "the only appreciable signs of mental activity during the 
course of this disease are the crafty and cunning plans which the 
patient most subtly matures and as stealthily executes to procure 
his desired repast. This consists usually of charcoal, chalk, dried 
mortar, mud, clay, sand, shells, rotten wood, shreds of cloth or 
paper, hair, or occasionally some other unnatural substance. The 
patient, when accused of dirt-eating, which is too often urged as a 
voluntary crime rather than an irresistible disease, invariably denies 
the charge. As curative means, neither promises nor threats (even 
when put in execution), nor yet the confinement of the legs and hands 
in stocks and manacles exert the least influence and their preventive 
effect is as temporary as their employment; so great is the depravity 
of the appetite, and so strongly are the unfortunate sufferers under 
this complaint subjected to its irresistible dominion. A metallic 
mask or mouthpiece secured by a lock is the principal means of 
security for providing against their indulging in dirt-eating, if left 
for a moment to themselves, nor does this effect a cure or save the 
life of the patient." 

Africa 161 

Cragin quotes from a work "Practical Rules for the management 
and medical treatment of Negro slaves in the sugar colonies, by a 
professional planter" (London, 1811) the statement, "We find that 
Negroes laboring under any great depression of mind, from the 
rigorous treatment of their masters, or from any other cause, addict 
themselves singularly to the eating of dirt." 

Cragin is inclined to think that the disposition to eat chalk, clay, 
and earth arises from a purely physiological cause, an acidity of the 
stomach, not from a melancholic or any other affection of the mind. 
He concludes that the effect has been mistaken for the cause. As 
one of the facts to prove his position he cites the following: persons 
living on the same plantation, perhaps on the identical section of 
the same plantation, on which they were born and reared, with all 
their friends around them, and by indulgent masters and owners, 
who are themselves the real slaves, while the owned are only 
nominally so, provided with ample food, raiment, and if necessary, 
medical aid, are also subject to this malady. 

Dr. Melville J. Herskovits of Northwestern University informs 
me that the Bush Negroes and the Negroes of the coastal region of 
Surinam eat earth only on ceremonial occasions. Many times he 
saw women who were possessed by the spirit rolling lumps of a 
white sacred clay (pemba doti) in their hands during the time of 
possession and repeatedly licking their hands or the clay. 

According to Major J. 0. Browne (The Vanishing Tribes of 
Kenya, 1925, p. 104), "instances occur from time to time of earth- 
eating, but they are always associated with an outbreak of ankylos- 
tomiasis, of which, of course, it is a well-known symptom." 

F. Fulleborn (Das deutsche Njassa- und Ruwuma-Gebiet, 1906, 
p. 115) has the following notice: "In the south of German East 
Africa earth is eaten, although not so generally as it is reported with 
reference to Asiatic and American peoples. The fact that pregnant 
women among the Wakissi are said to eat earth once in a while 
would mean nothing, since the pregnant often have desires for 
strange things. I was witness of how at Wiedhafen on the Nyassa 
relatives brought to a prisoner together with his daily ration a piece 
of loam (not a special kind, but a quite common one apparently 
detached from the wall of a hut) of which he ate with seeming en- 
joyment. This, it is true, was the only case observed by myself, but 
Elton reports in regard to the Wassangu that he saw there young 
children and women emaciated into skeletons who had contracted a 
disease from earth-eating, and Johnston reports similar cases from 
British Central Africa." 

162 Geophagy 

Ehrenberg (II p. 19) received also a clay from Abyssinia with 
the remark that it was eagerly eaten by women. 

In Morocco the earth from the tombs of saints is used in the 
healing of disease. It is called the hanna or henne of the saint. 
It is made into plasters to be applied to the skin or into amulets. It 
is also moistened with the water of the sanctuary, and then becomes 
a potion which will cure the most obstinate evils. It is known that 
the objects concealed in a sanctuary are never stolen, thanks to the 
protection of the saint who would blind, paralyze or instantly slay 
thievish intruders. By making a bag containing earth from a saint's 
tomb and suspending it in a tree, on the walls surrounding a garden, 
in the flour-chest, or in a shop which remains unguarded at night, 
the saint is obliged to protect these places; he is transformed into a 
veritable guardian and is compelled to punish the thief as though 
his own sanctuary had been violated (Legey, Essai de folklore maro- 
cain, 1926, p. 10). 

During her stay in Taourirth Abdallah, which is one of the 
Kabyl towns in the foothills of the Atlas, in Algeria, in 1928, Miss 
Georgiana B. Such, as she kindly informs me, noticed numerous 
cases of clay-eating and always in individuals obviously suffering 
from some more or less obvious polyglandular disturbance or insuf- 
ficiency — many had goiter; all those examined by her were suffer- 
ing from intestinal parasites, many had tapeworms, and all were 
undernourished . 

L. Rauwolf (Beschreibung der Raiss inn die Morgenlander, 1583, 
p. 32) writes that in Tripoli an ash-colored earth called malun was 
used for washing the head and that another earth called iusabor was 
frequently eaten by women as among us the pregnant eat coal and 
other things. 

R. F. Burton (Lake Regions of Central Africa, II, p. 28) writes 
that clay of ant-hills, called "sweet earth," is commonly eaten on 
both coasts of Africa. According to Major Tremearne (The Ban of 
the Bori, p. 80), the women of Nigeria eat white earth during the 
first three months of pregnancy to insure a successful delivery, but 
earth is not used as food during a famine. 


In his Naturalis Historia (XVIII, 29) Pliny discusses alica, a 
preparation or a kind of porridge made from peeled spelt for which 
Italy was famed. It was manufactured in several localities, for in- 
stance, in the territories of Verona and Pisae, but the product of 
Campania was most renowned. Pliny describes in detail how the 
grain was dealt with in Campania for this purpose and that three 
kinds of alica, the finest, the seconds, and the coarse were distin- 
guished; none of these, however, had as yet the white gloss for 
which they were reputed. For this purpose, Pliny continues — and 
expresses his surprise by adding a mirum dictu ("strange to relate") 
— a white marl or chalk (creta) is mixed with the grain, and this 
chalk well embodied in the mass lends it color and tenderness (postea, 
mirum dictu, admiscetur creta, quae transit in corpus coloremque 
et teneritatem adfert). This chalk, he writes, is found between 
Puteoli and Neapolis upon a hill called Leucogaeum (a Greek name 
meaning "white earth"). He refers to a decree, then still in existence, 
of the emperor Augustus, in which the latter ordered an annual allot- 
ment of twenty thousand sesterces to be paid from his exchequer to 
the Neapolitans for the lease of this hill. The reason for this con- 
tribution, the emperor stated, was that the people of Campania 
alleged that their alica could not be made without this mineral. 

It must be emphasized that what Pliny reports with reference to 
the alica of Campania was not a regular, but an exceptional practice 
at which Pliny himself marvels as a very singular fact. In other 
places of Italy as well as in Egypt the alica was prepared without 
the addition of creta. Accordingly we face here a purely local custom 
whose principal object was to whiten the meal or to intensify its 
whiteness. Nothing like improving its flavor or pleasure in eating a 
clayish substance is mentioned by Pliny. This passage is not con- 
clusive in attributing to the ancients the habit of earth-eating, as 
has rashly been done by Ehrenberg (II p. 2). 

Pliny further mentions an adulterated kind of alica produced in 
Africa, over which gypsum, in the proportion of one fourth, is 
sprinkled. No reason therefor is given. Fee, one of Pliny's com- 
mentators, wonders how the African mixture accommodated itself 
to the stomachs of those who ate it. I believe, very well, and that 
F£e himself with millions of others has numerous times consumed 
flour adulterated with gypsum and perhaps worse ingredients. 


164 Geophagy 

I know of no passage in Greek or Roman literature to warrant 
the opinion that earth, clay, or chalk was occasionally or habitually 
consumed, either for pleasure or as a necessity. Various renowned 
clays like those of Samos, Chios, and Selinos were only employed 
medicinally or for industrial purposes (Pliny XXXV, 16, 53-56). 

Galen (a.d. 129-199) has left an interesting account of his 
journeying back and forth between Rome and Pergamum in order 
to stop at Lemnos and procure a supply of the famous terra sigillata, 
a reddish clay stamped into pellets with the sacred seal of Diana. 
He describes the solemn procedure by which the priestess from the 
neighboring city gathered the red earth from the hill where it was 
found, sacrificing no animals, but wheat and barley to the earth. 
He brought away with him some twenty thousand of the little disks 
or seals which were supposed to cure even lethal poisons and the bite 
of mad dogs. Berthelot believed that this earth was an oxid of 
iron more or less hydrated and impure. During the middle ages and 
later Greek monks replaced the priestess of Diana, and the religious 
ceremony was performed in the presence of Turkish officials (L. 
Thorndike, I, p. 130). 

The learned Dr. Covel, in his Diary (1670-79), gives us an in- 
teresting account of what he saw in connection with the terra sigil- 
lata of Lemnos, the sacred earth with supposed curative properties: 

"On the side hills, on the contrary side of the valley, directly 
over against the middle point betwixt this hill and Panagia kotzinatz 
is the place where they dig the terra sigillata. At the foot of a hard 
rock of gray hard freestone enclining to marble is a little clear spring 
of most excellent water, which, falling down a little lower, looseth 
its water in a kind of milky bogge; on the East side of this spring, 
within a foot or my hand's breadth of it, they every year take out 
the earth on the 6th of August, about three hours after the sun. 
Several papas, as well as others, would fain have persuaded me that, 
at the time of our Saviour's transfiguration, this place was sanctifyed 
to have his virtuous earth, and that it is never to be found soft and 
unctuous, but always perfect rock, unlesse only that day, which they 
keep holy in remembrance of the Metamorphosis, and at that time 
when the priest hath said his liturgy; but I believe they take it onely 
that day, and set the greater price upon it by its scarcenesse. Either 
it was the Venetian, or perhaps Turkish policy for the Grand Signor 
to engrosse it all to himself, unless some little, which the Greeks 
steal; and they prefer no poor Greek to take any for his own occa- 
sions, for they count it an infallible cure of all agues taken in the 
beginning of the fit with water, and drank so two or three times. 

Europe 165 

Their women drink it to hasten childbirth, and to stop the fluxes 
that are extraordinary; and they count it an excellent counter- 
poyson, and have got a story that no vessel made of it will hold 
poison, but immediately splinter in a thousand pieces. I have seen 
several finganes (Turkish cups) made of it in Stamboul; we had a 
good store of it presented to us by Agathone and others, all incom- 
parably good. We had some such as it is naturally dig'd out and 
not wash'd . . . Thus they take it out: before day they begin and 
digge a well about 1 Y^ yards wide, and a little above a man's height 
deep; and then the earth is taken out soft and loomy, some of it 
like butter, which the Greeks say, and the Turks believe, is turned 
out of rocky stone into soft clay by virtues of their mass. When 
they have taken out some 20 or 30 kintals for the Greeks' use, they 
fill it up again, and so leave it stop't without any guard in the 
world . . . 

"We came down to a town called Hagiapate, where there is a 
great large fountain, where they wash and prepare the hagion choma 
(sacred earth) for the Turkish seal. They first dissolve it in water, 
well working it with their hands; then let the water pass through 
a sive, and what remains they throw away. They let the water 
stand till settled, then take of the clear, and, when dry enough, they 
mould in their hands; and most of this we have is shaped from 
thence. It is all here white, yet I had some given me flesh-coloured. 
I enquired diligently about it, and they all told me it came out of 
the same pit; but I expect some of these fellows have found some 
other place which they conceal. We had some little quantity given 
us of several people, but very privately, for fear of the Avani&s. 
Agathone, being the Pasha's favourite, feared nothing, but gave us 
at least 20 okes before 20 people. They tell a story that the earth 
is hollow from the holy well, when dig'd, to the fountain, where they 
wash it; and that a duck once dived in the water there and was 
taken up here; but it seemed an impossible thing to me, there being 
not water enough in the first place to cover a duck, and the water 
in the bogge so very shallow, and the earth not sinuous." 

J. T. Bent, editor of Covel's Diary (Early Voyages in the Levant, 
1913, p. 285), adds the following comments: "Dr. Covel's remarks 
on the sacred earth of Lemnos are particularly valuable, as this is 
one of the clearest instances of a pagan superstition being carried on 
through the influence of Christianity down to our own times. Pliny 
mentions it (XXIX, 5) ; also Dioscorides (V, 113) ; and Galen made 
an expedition to Lemnos on purpose to see it, and gives us an 
account of it (De simpl. med., IX, 2). He mentions the disorders 

166 Geophagy 

for which it was considered beneficial; he also gives us the cere- 
monies and mode of operation; on certain occasions a priestess of 
Artemis came, and after certain rites carried off a cartload to the 
city; she mixed it with water, kneaded it, and strained off both the 
moisture and gritty particles, and when it was like wax, she im- 
pressed it with the seal of Artemis. During the middle ages, the 
reputed virtues of this earth remained unimpaired as a remedy for 
the plague." 

Pierre Belon witnessed the ceremony on August 6, 1533. When 
Tozer visited Lemnos in 1890, the ceremony was still performed 
annually on August 6, and was to be completed before sunrise, or 
the earth would lose its efficacy. Mohammedan Khojas then shared 
in the religious ceremony, sacrificing a lamb. In the twentieth cen- 
tury the entire ceremony was abandoned. In western Europe the 
terra sigillata continued to be held in high esteem, and was included 
in pharmacopoeias as late as 1833 and 1848. C. J. S. Thompson 
has given a chemical analysis of a sixteenth-century tablet of the 
Lemnian earth, with the result that no evidence therein of its pos- 
sessing any medicinal property could be found (L. Thorndike, II, 
p. 131). 

Hegiage Ben Josef al-Thakefi, governor of Arabia at the time of 
the Caliphs, is said to have died of phthisis caused by overeating of 
terra sigillata, called by the Arabs tin makhtum, lutum and lutum 
sigillatum (D'Herbelot, Bibliotheque orientale, II, 1777, p. 229). 
This earth is also mentioned in the pharmacological literature of the 
Arabs, for instance, in Serapion's Liber de semplici medicina (P. 
Guigues, Les noms arabes dans Serapion, Journal asiatique, 1905, 
p. 85) and by Ibn al-Baitar (L. Leclerc, Traite" des simples, II, 
p. 421). 

Peter of Abano, in his Treatise on Poisons (Tractatus de venenis, 
about 1316), mentions the terra sigillata which, he says, causes 
vomiting if there is any poison in the stomach. Kings and princes 
in the west take it with their meals as a safeguard, and it is called 
terra sigillata because stamped with the king's seal. Now, however, 
the seals are no longer trustworthy, and Peter cautions the Pope 
against what may be offered him as terra sigillata (Thorndike, II, 
p. 909). 

Earth dug from a grotto in Malta, where St. Paul spent a night, 
was formerly used for the cure of many ailments, being esteemed a 
cordial, a sudorific, and a certain remedy for the bites and stings of 
venomous animals. In the eighteenth century this earth was dis- 

Europe 167 

tributed from Malta, made up in small round cakes and stamped 
with the impression of a winged cherub and the words terra sigillata 
(Hill, History of the Materia Medica, p. 206). 

In a few wretched villages of Sardinia bread is still prepared 
from the meal of acorns, which is mixed with a ferruginous argil- 
laceous earth, in order to counteract the tannic acid of the acorns. 
This earth is called trokko; and the bread, pan' ispeli (M. L. Wagner, 
Das landliche Leben Sardiniens, p. 60, Heidelberg, 1921). This 
practice corresponds exactly with the acorn bread of the Porno of 
California (below, p. 173). 

Altheer (p. 93) writes that at Ogliastra in Sardinia a porridge of 
acorn meal is mixed with a fat clay and that this compound is made 
into cakes which are sprinkled with ashes or smeared with a little 
grease and taken as daily food. 

The women of Spain and Portugal take pleasure in munching a 
pottery clay styled bucaro from which vases of a yellow reddish 
color are made; when dissolved in water or wine, it imparts to these 
a very agreeable flavor and odor. The bucaro clay is found near 
Estremoz in the province of Alemtejo, Portugal, and in the province 
of Estremadura. The almagro, a very fine clay which occurs near 
Cartagena in the province of Murcia, Spain, is mixed with powdered 
tobacco in order to render it less volatile and to give it that sweet 
flavor which is the characteristic of the tobacco of Seville (Camilli, 
p. 187). Mixed with powdered chili pepper, the same clay is fre- 
quently eaten in southern Spain (Altheer, p. 93). The word almagro 
(also almagra or almagre) is derived from the Arabic al-maghra 
("red ochre*) ; this clay is still employed in painting and known in 
France as rouge indien ("Indian red") or rouge de Perse ("Persian 

Deniker states that it is asserted by women that the eating of 
earth gives a delicate complexion to the face and that the same cus- 
tom has also been pointed out among women in several countries of 
Europe, more especially in Spain, where the sandy clay which is 
used for making the alcarrazas is especially in vogue as an edible 
earth. The Spanish word alcarraza, derived from the Arabic al- 
kurraz ("earthenware vessel, pitcher"), denotes a porous, unglazed 
earthenware jar for cooling the water; in the southwestern United 
States such a jar is commonly called olla. 

It is said that the ladies of the Spanish aristocracy in the seven- 
teenth century had such a passion for geophagy that the ecclesiastic 

168 Geophagy 

and secular authorities took steps to combat the evil (Morel-Fatio, 
Comer Barro. Melanges de philologie romane d£di£s a Carl Wahlund, 
p. 41, Macon, 1896). 

In Macedonia magnesia was sold in the markets and baked in 
the bread. Another sort of earth was so much in use there that 
some Ulemas from Anatolia once offered the Grand Vizier various 
specimens of it as a cheap means of nutrition for the Turkish troops 
(Altheer, p. 93). 

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) describes a complicated 
cure of leprosy by use of the earth from an ant-hill (L. Thorndike, 
II, p. 147). 

A fossil flour was used in Saxony in times of famine, and its con- 
sumption had fatal results. A similar substance was found in Italy, 
notably in the territory near Magognano in the beginning of the 
nineteenth century, but it is not on record that this substance styled 
in Italy "mineral agaric" and "lunar milk" (above, p. 154) was 
actually consumed (Camilli, p. 188). 

The miners in the sandstone mines of the Kyffhauser ate fine 
clay placed like butter on bread (known as "stone butter"). The 
same is reported for miners near Kelbre in Thuringia who used to 
eat a lithomarge called "stone marrow" (steinmark), a fine clay 
made liquid or spongy by a small quantity of water (Camilli, p. 187). 
"Mountain meal" (bergmehl) was resorted to in Germany during 
the Thirty Years' War for feeding man and cattle (see Hopffe 
and Zaunick in Bibliography). 

"In Finland a kind of earth is occasionally mixed with bread. 
It consists of empty shells of animalculae, so small and soft that 
they do not crunch perceptibly between the teeth; it fills the stomach, 
but gives no real nourishment. In periods of war, chronicles and 
documents preserved in archives often give intimation of earths con- 
taining infusoria having been eaten; speaking of them under the 
vague and general name of 'mountain meal.' It was thus during 
the Thirty Years' War in Pomerania (at Kamin or Cammin) ; in the 
Lausitz (at Muskau); and in the territory of Dessau (at Klieken); 
and subsequently in 1719 and 1733 in the fortress of Wittenberg" 
(A. v. Humboldt, Aspects of Nature, I, p. 196). Ehrenberg (II p. 5) 
adds Miihlhausen and Oberburgbernheim in Alsace according to 
the Chronicle of Basle, where earth was baked into bread, and says 
that the earth-cakes of Klieken served as bread in the fortress 
Wittenberg, so that the government then found it profitable to sell 
this treasure of the earth as fiscal property. 

Europe 169 

During a famine in 1832, the foodstuffs used in the parish Degerna 
on the frontier of Lapponia contained a meal-like silicious earth 
mixed with real flour and tree-bark, according to analyses of Ber- 
celius, Retzius, and Ehrenberg. For a long time it has been custom- 
ary at Umea, Sweden, to add such earth to wheat flour, and this 
is said to have no injurious effect on health. Hundreds of car-loads 
of such earth, especially from Lillhaggsjbn Lake in Umea, mixed 
with foodstuffs, are said to have served as a nourishment to the 
Lapps about the same time. Such earth is likewise utilized in 
Finland; near Laihela, in the region of Vasa in Oesterbotten, Fin- 
land, a powder-like white clayish earth (according to Retzius, inor- 
ganic) is used as an addition to flour (Ehrenberg II p. 5; and 
Berichtiiber dieVerhandlungen der Berliner Akademie, 1837, pp. 41-43; 
1838, p. 7). 


It is commonly believed (and science also has its conventional 
traditions sometimes half true, sometimes untrue or unproven) that 
Alexander von Humboldt was the first who drew attention to geo- 
phagy among American tribes or even to the subject at all; and 
when geophagy is spoken of, it is usually Humboldt's illustrious 
name which is remembered. Humboldt made the subject of geophagy 
fashionable; his account certainly retains its value, and is still en- 
titled to the interest which it at first aroused, but he was neither 
the first who discussed the subject (many European writers of the 
eighteenth century were quite familiar with it as far as Africa, 
Siberia and Europe are concerned), nor was he the first to point it 
out with reference to American tribes. 

As early as 1527 earth-eating was mentioned by Alvar Nunez 
Cabeza de Vaca. Speaking of a tribe called by him Iguaces, who 
live on wild roots and are much exposed to starvation, he relates 
that "now and then they kill deer and at times get a fish, but this 
is so little and their hunger so great that they eat spiders and ant- 
eggs [the pupas], worms, lizards, salamanders, and serpents, also 
vipers the bite of which is deadly. They swallow earth and wood, 
and all they can get, the dung of deer and more things I do not 
mention; and I verily believe, from what I saw, that if there were 
any stones in the country, they would eat them also." In another 
passage the same explorer states that the fruit of the mesquite tree 
(Prosopis juliflora) was eaten with earth, and then became sweet 
and very palatable (F. Bandelier, Journey of Cabeza de Vaca, 1905, 
pp. 89, 127). 

Sir Samuel Argoll, in a letter on his voyage to Virginia in 1613, 
speaks of "the discovery of a strange kind of earth, the virtue of 
which he did not know; but the Indians eate it for physicke, alleag- 
ing that it cureth the sicknesse and paine of the belly" (Purchas, 
XIX, p. 92). 

In reference to clay-eating among the present-day Virginia In- 
dians Dr. Frank G. Speck, professor of anthropology at the Uni- 
versity of Pennsylvania, has been good enough to send me the 
following information: "I recall from my notes that the Pamunkey 
and the Catawba would confess to eating a little clay at times when 
they are engaged in making pottery. This they do not as a practice 
nor, as I recall, for medicinal purposes, but because it tastes agree- 


North America 171 

ably to them; but they do not make a regular practice of it. They 
say that it is commenced when they are children, playing about in 
the clay which has been gathered and cleaned for pot-making by 
their mothers. Both sexes eat clay. It does not seem to have be- 
come a habit among the Indians as among the whites. And I believe 
there is a connection between it and pot-making, as a theory in its 
history in the southeast. The Pamunkey mix powdered mussel- 
shells (Unio) with their pot-clay, and the Catawba sometimes blood, 
which may be worth considering in the development of the taste." 
A similar example of women potters enjoying clay while at work is 
given below (p. 190) for Colombia. 

At a later date Dr. Speck communicated to me the following 
personal observation: "The Catawba women who still make clay 
pots are given to eating clay in small quantities, because they like 
the taste of it. This is done when building pots. They say it is 
good for the health in small measure, acting as a laxative. I found 
it so too upon trial. Their children also eat it and would be apt to 
eat too much of it if not controlled by their mothers." 

The Zuni eat the tuber of Solatium fendleri (so-called native 
potato) raw, and after every mouthful a bite of white clay is taken 
to counteract the unpleasant astringent effect of the potato in the 
mouth (M. C. Stevenson, Ethnobotany of the Zuni Indians, Bureau 
Am. Ethn., 30th Annual Rep., p. 71). 

It seems, however, that this procedure was not general among 
the Zuni. At least F. H. Cushing (Zuni Breadstuff, p. 226, repr. in 
Indian Notes and Monographs of the Museum of the American 
Indian, VIII), in speaking of the preparation of a diminutive wild 
potato, which is poisonous in the raw state or whole, but rendered 
harmless by the removal of the skin, writes that such potatoes were 
stewed and eaten usually with the addition of wild onions as a 
relish. He does not refer to clay in this connection, nor to any kind 
of clay used by the Zuni in reference to any other food. 

The Oraibi of Arizona use a kind of clay which is mixed with 
potatoes and eaten, hence known as potato-clay (specimen in Field 

J. G. Bourke (The Snake-dance of the Moquis of Arizona, 1884, 
pp. 70, 252) refers to the Moqui's eating of clay with wild potatoes 
as a condiment. He adds that the Navaho to a very marked extent 
and the Apache, Moqui and Zuni to a smaller degree may be classed 
among clay-eaters. 

172 Geophagy 

Mr. C. Daryll Forde has kindly sent me the following informa- 
tion on the edible clay used by the Hopi: "The edible clay known 
and used by the Hopi is a white compact material as hard as chalk, 
but more 'greasy' to the touch and taste. Two sources were known 
to my informants: (1) the larger supply is obtained from Navaho 
who bring it in from the Chinlee District, (2) a small local supply 
also exists in a low hill of sand and shale debris on the west side of 
Second Mesa near the Mishongnovi spring, Toreva (tojiva). My 
informants thought that the Navaho themselves did not use it (I 
was unable to corroborate this with Navaho informants). The Hopi 
name is tomontcoka. It is always used in association with wild 
vegetables or berries. The following are two standard recipes: 

(1) Kevepsi (berries of a low bush, keptcoki, not yet identified) are 

boiled, the clay is mixed in with them as they cook, and the 
whole mashed into a paste. 

(2) Tumna, the tubers of a wild bush collected in April and May, 

are boiled and eaten with powdered clay (au gratin, so to 
speak), or the tubers and the clay are mashed together after 
cooking, or, again, one nibbles at a lump of the clay while 
eating the main dish." 

Mr. E. Simpson and others of the Department of Geology, 
University of California, have made a physical examination of this 
clay, with the following report communicated to me by Mr. Forde: — 

"The Hopi edible clay is a cream-colored, very fine material with 
a speckled appearance due to the presence of small, whiter-colored 
mud ovules. The latter appear to be clay pellets which may have 
been formed by coagulation in a saline solution, such as would 
obtain in a saline lake. 

"On treating the specimen with water it immediately began to 
'dissolve' and rapidly colored all the water in the beaker. In a few 
hours it had swelled to more than twice its original volume, and had 
the consistency of soft jelly. The colloidal clay was decanted off 
and the residue, of which there was extremely little, examined under 
the microscope. A few very angular grains of quartz, none over a 
tenth of a millimeter in diameter, were observed together with a 
few weathered grains of medium plagioclase felspar. Most of the 
residue, however, was a fibrous chlorite apparently pseudomorphic 
after biotite. 

"The clay was undoubtedly deposited in a lake which was 
probably saline. It is possibly 'bentonite' or altered volcanic ash, 
but this cannot be proved by physical examination. 

North America 173 

"The property of swelling by taking up considerable quantity of 
water when immersed suggests that perhaps this clay was of value 
in giving a sense of repletion to a relatively empty stomach." 

W. Hough (in Handbook of American Indians, I, p. 467) writes 
that "in some localities (among the Pueblos) clay was eaten, either 
alone or mixed with food or taken in connection with wild potatoes 
to mitigate the griping effect of this acrid tuber." In this case, 
accordingly, the clay serves as a soothing medium as among the 
Ainu in combination with the bulb of a Corydalis (above, p. 149). 

In acute indigestion the Papago boil for a little while some of the 
red earth taken from beneath the fire; after being strained a little 
salt is added, and the mixture is then given to the patient to drink. 
He has to take this remedy three times, always at mealtime, and he 
gets nothing or at most very little to eat (A. Hrdlicka, Physiological 
and Medical Observations among the Indians, 1908, p. 241). 

The Porno of California, in making bread, mix red earth with 
acorn meal. Dr. S. A. Barrett has been good enough to give me the 
following information on this point: "The fact of the matter is that 
they make white bread, as it is called, without a mixture of earth, 
but this is not esteemed as highly as the black bread, which is as a 
matter of fact a very dark brown and heavy bread. The two are 
made, as I recall it, in exactly the same manner, except for this 
mixture of a very small quantity of a reddish earth, which the 
Indians say serves as our yeast does. There is nothing, however, in 
the way of 'raising' of the dough, but the red earth is simply mixed, 
and the dough is placed in the oven to bake at once. The oven, of 
course, is nothing more or less than a hole in the ground, which is 
lined with leaves and filled with layers of this dough and hot stones, 
the latter being separated from the dough by layers of leaves. It 
bakes slowly, but is really a very palatable food. I am not sure 
how this earth actually affects the dough, as I have never had an 
opportunity to look up the actual chemical composition of this red 
earth. I cannot state definitely the geographical distribution of 
this particular custom in California, but as I recall it now, it is not 
found among the Miwok with whom I have worked to a considerable 
extent, though not as fully as among the Porno. The Miwok method 
of handling acorn meal and bread is quite different from that of the 
Porno in several respects. I might add that there is a certain whitish 
or bluish white clay which was to a certain extent used by the Porno, 
though this was not used with anything else and is said by them to 
be a food of itself. I do not now recall having encountered the use of 

174 Geophagy 

this whitish or bluish white clay among any of the other Californian 
tribes with which I came more or less in contact, though it may be 
that it is such a slight part of their food supply that unless one was 
specifically hunting for it, it would be very easily overlooked." 

In a creation myth of the Cahuilla of California an incidental 
allusion to earth-eating on the part of the first people is made. 
Mukat, in a dispute with Temaiyauit, says, "There will not be 
enough food for all of them." "They can eat earth," said Temaiyauit. 
"But they will then eat up all the earth," answered Mukat, and 
Temaiyauit replied, "No, for by our power it will be swelling again" 
(W. D. Strong, Aboriginal Society in Southern California, p. 135, 
University of California Press, 1929). Of course, it is rather the 
possibility of eating earth than the fact itself, which is here alluded 
to; but if eating earth was regarded as possible, actual tests ap- 
parently must have been made. 

Sir John Richardson (Arctic Searching Expedition, 1852, p. 118) 
writes, "A pipe-clay is very generally associated with the coal beds, 
and is frequently found in contact with the lignite. It exists in beds 
varying in thickness from six inches to a foot, and is generally of a 
yellowish-white color, but in some places has a light lake-red tint. 
It is smooth, without grittiness, and when masticated has a flavor 
somewhat like the kernel of a hazel-nut. The natives eat this earth 
in times of scarcity and suppose that thereby they prolong their 

With reference to this passage, Frank Russell (Explorations in 
the Far North, p. 133, publ. by University of Iowa) remarks, "I 
found the bed of edible clay, mentioned by Richardson, near the 
base of the cliff. It is used for whitewashing at Norman, and is 
said to have been used as a substitute for soap by the Indians before 
the introduction of that article by the traders. Norman stands at 
the mouth of the Bear River near the Bear Rock, a solitary butte 
over four thousand feet in height." The Indians here in question 
are Athabascans of northwestern Canada. 

V. Stefansson (Arctic Expedition of the American Museum, 
Anthr. Papers Am. Mus. Nat. Hist., XIV, 1914, p. 395) has the 
following entry in his diary under the heading "Edible Earth": — 

"Bought to-night a tin full of 'edible clay' from a cutbank on the 
Kanianirk part of the Colville (S. bank) between the Killirk and 
Ninnolik branches. The specimen is in flakes and powder. Seller 
considered the clay a true food, but says it is eaten in large quantities 

North America 175 

only at times of scarcity or when travelers run out of food. Many 
eat a little now and then, seller (Kanianirmiut woman) says she puts 
a little on her tongue almost every day and lets it soak up there 
till soft. She gets presents every year now of similar stuff up the 
coast, but the sample sold me has been treasured for years. When 
clay is to be used in earnest as food, it should be let soak in water 
over night or longer; it then disintegrates and swells into a thick 
paste, seems to increase in bulk rather more than rice does in boil- 
ing. When about to be eaten, this paste is mixed up in a little more 
water to make it thinner, and then it is poured into hot water in a 
pot and cooked 'like flour soup,' i.e., brought to a boil. 'This is 
good food if one has oil with it; otherwise it constipates you.' The 
seller, however, considers the clay to be rich in a tasteless and smell- 
less oil which she says the old men say is old whale-oil that soaked 
down the cutbank from whales whose bones (lower upper jaws, 
shoulder-blades, ribs, backbone, etc.) are seen near the top of the 
cutbank far above." 

The Iglulik Eskimo have a tradition relating to the early history 
of mankind when men had only earth for food. "In earliest times 
it was very difficult for men to hunt. They were not such skilful 
hunters as those who live now. They had not so many hunting im- 
plements, and did not enjoy an abundance and variety of food such 
as we have now. In my childhood I heard old people say that once 
long long ago men ate of the earth. Our forefathers ate of the earth; 
when halting on a journey and camping, they worked the soil with 
picks of caribou-horn, breaking up the earth and searching for food. 
This happened in the days when it was very difficult to kill a caribou, 
and it is said that they had to make a single animal last all summer 
and autumn. Therefore they were obliged to seek other food. . . . 
In those days earth was the principal food of man" (K. Rasmussen, 
Intellectual Culture of the Iglulik Eskimos, p. 253, Copenhagen, 

A certain outward resemblance of this tradition to the Indie one 
in the Vinayavastu (above, p. 144) is obvious, as is also the diversity 
of the two stories. In the Indie one earth is considered a superior 
food of the golden age, in the Eskimoan one it is an inferior food 
resorted to for lack of better staples in the beginning of life. Of 
course, such a stage of living, as visualized in the Eskimo tradition, 
has never existed; it is an afterthought reconstruction, but maybe 
at the same time a vague reminiscence of earth having formerly 
been consumed on a larger scale than at the present time. 

176 Geophagy 

Lieutenant G. T. Emmons, who has had a thirty-five years' 
experience with the tribes of the Northwest Coast, assures me that 
he has never seen or heard of a single case of clay-eating among any 
of these. Clay or earth is not mentioned either by Harlan I. Smith 
in his article "Materia Medica of the Bella Coola and Neighboring 
Tribes of British Columbia" (Annual Report for 1927 of National 
Museum of Canada, Ottawa, 1929). 

It would be erroneous to believe that earth-eating is a privilege 
of the Indians. It is found among the whites as well, especially in 
Georgia and Carolina. In 1709 T. Lawson (History of Carolina, 
p. 206, London, 1714) recorded this observation: "The children [of 
the Indians] are much addicted to eat dirt, and so are some of the 
Christians, but roast a bat on a skeiver and make the child that eats 
dirt eat the roasted rearmouse (bat), and he will never eat dirt 
again." In 1857 J. R. Cotting published the analysis of a species 
of clay found in Richmond County, Georgia, which, as announced 
in the title of his article, "is eagerly sought after and eaten by 
many people, particularly children." This substance, in its external 
characters, he writes, resembles lithomarge, or rock marrow; its 
colors are dark red, yellow, yellowish red, yellowish white, purple 
and reddish white. He found it associated with other minerals in 
many parts of the survey, in both the counties of Burke and Rich- 
mond, but the purest and most abundant was on land of David F. 
Dickinson near M'Bean Creek, Richmond County, on the east side 
of the great road leading from Augusta to Savannah, about fourteen 
miles from the former place. Here large excavations had been made 
to obtain this clay, indicating that the demand for it must have been 
heavy. It has a slight sweetish taste, not unlike calcined magnesia. 
Its action on the stomach is mechanical, as it contains nothing cap- 
able of being decomposed and nothing on which the gastric juice can 
act. It is composed of silex, oxid of iron, alumina, magnesia, and 

A boy about fifteen years of age, who was taking his favorite re- 
past at that locality, informed Cotting that he was in the habit of 
eating daily of that substance, "as much as he could hold in his 
hand." Cotting asked the boy whether his parents did not inform 
him better. He replied that he had only a mother and that she ate 
it too when she was well, but that she was almost always sick. 
Cotting was informed by people living in the vicinity of the localities 
where this clay occurs that many deaths have resulted there from 
no other perceptible cause than from persisting in the use of this 

North America 177 

clay as a luxury. Cotting adds that this peculiar species of clay is 
said not to be found north of the Potomac and that a species in 
some respects similar is found at Bare-hills, Maryland, which, how- 
ever, is deficient in the proportion of iron and magnesia. 

The Redbones (see Handbook of American Indians, I, p. 365) of 
Carolina are reputed to be clay-eaters. 


The use of earth in ancient Mexico is particularly interesting, 
especially in its relation to religious ceremonies. 

"A peculiar food of the ancient Mexicans seen by the conquerors 
consisted of cakes made from a sort of ooze which they get out of 
the great lake, which curdles, and from this they make a bread 
having a flavor something like cheese" (T. A. Joyce, Mexican Archae- 
ology, p. 155). The source is not quoted by Joyce. Ehrenberg (II 
p. 3) writes, "Earth-eating was reported in Mexico as early as 1494 
and in 1519 by Bernal de Diaz as the relish tecuitlatl from the Lake 
of Mexico, which was confirmed by Hernandez in 1580." 

The following documents have reference to this matter. Sahagun 
(book XI, chap. 3, at end of §5) informs us that "on the Lake of 
Mexico is found a substance (urronas) called tecuitlatl, clear blue in 
color; when it forms a thick layer, it is gathered, spread out on ashes, 
and formed into cakes which are baked and then eaten." 

Bernal Diaz refers to the same matter in two passages (chaps. 
92 and 153; translation of A. P. Maudslay, II, p. 73; IV, p. 160). 
In the former he speaks of fisherwomen and others who sell small 
loaves made from a sort of ooze gathered on the Lake of Mexico; 
this ooze curdles or coagulates, and can be cut up into slices the 
taste of which reminds one a little of our cheese. In the other chapter 
he writes, "They gathered on the Lake a sort of ooze which when 
dried had a flavor like cheese." D. Jourdanet (in his French transla- 
tion of Diaz' work, p. 517) comments that "the Indians of the pre- 
sent time still collect on the banks of the lagoon a mass said to 
consist of the eggs of gnats mixed with a gelatinous substance which 
comes from the swarms of these insects (called agua-utle); it has 
indeed a strong flavor like bad cheese." 

F. Lopez de Gomara (Historia de Mexico, p. 118, Antwerp, 
1554), describing the market, relates, "They eat everything, even 
earth. At a certain time of the year they sweep up with nets of a 
fine mesh a fine substance which grows on the water of the lakes of 
Mexico and coagulates. It is not a plant or earth, but is like mire. 
There is a lot of it, and they collect much of it, and spreading it 
out in the way salt is prepared, they empty it out, and there it 
coagulates and dries. They make of it cakes like bricks. Not only 
do they sell it in the market, but also they take it to other markets 


Mexico and Central *\merica 179 

outside the city far away. They eat it as we eat cheese, and it has 
a slightly saltish taste; with chilmolli it is savory. They say, too, 
that so many birds crave this article on the lake that during the 
winter they cover many parts of its surface." Chilmolli is a ragout 
or soup in which chili dominates. 

F. Juan de Torquemada (Monarchia indiana, 1723, book XIV, 
chap. 14; II, p. 557), evidently depending on Gomara, has this 
account: "On the surface of the water of this lake grow some things 
like finely ground slime, and at a certain time of the year when they 
are more solidified the Indians gather them with fine meshed nets. 
They take them out of the water onto the earth or sand of the shore 
and spread them out till they dry, and then make cakes of them 
two fingers thick, which subsequently dry out to one finger-breadth 
when they are ripe. When they are well dry, the people cut them 
like small bricks, and eat them as though they were of cheese. 
The Indians think they have a very fine flavor, but they are rather 
salty. Of this they send a goodly quantity to the markets, and of 
another food which they call tecuitlatl, although at present these 
two kinds are lost and no longer appear, and I do not know whether 
the reason is that the Indians have taken to our food and no longer 
care for their own." The word tecuitlatl is listed in the "Diction- 
naire de la langue nahuatl ou mexicaine" (p. 404) of R. Simeon with 
the following definition: "A viscous substance (lit. 'excrement of 
stones') gathered amidst of the plants of Lake Tezcuco; this sub- 
stance is dried at the sun, and is preserved to be eaten like cheese. 
The Indians consume it at present and confer upon it the name 
cuculito del agua." 

Cf. also the notes of D. Jourdanet in his translation of Sahagun 
(p. 854). 

Midwives give to pregnant women the advice that they must 
abstain from eating earth and ticatl ("a sort of white earth"), for 
fear that the infant when born might be sick or disfigured by a 
bodily defect (Sahagun, book VI, chap. 27) . This rule seems to imply 
that pregnant women in ancient Mexico were in the habit of long- 
ing for earth. 

Joseph de Acosta (Historia natural y moral de las Indias, p. 382, 
book V, chap. 28, Madrid, 1608) describes a ceremony in ancient 
Mexico in honor of Tezcatlipoca, god of the night and particularly 
night winds. During the ceremony the priest blew a pottery flute, 
and after playing it toward the four points of the compass whereby 
he meant to indicate that both those present and absent heard him, 

180 Geophagy 

he placed his finger in the soil, and seizing earth, shoved it into his 
mouth and ate it as a sign of adoration; the same was done by all 
who were present (Y aviendo tanido hazia las quatro partes del 
mundo, denotando que los presentes y ausentes le oian, ponia el 
dedo en el suelo, y cogiendo tierra con el metia en la boca, y la 
comia en serial de adoracion, y lo mismo hazian todos los presentes, 
etc.). This ceremony was performed ten days before the feast, for 
the purpose that all might attend this worship in eating earth and 
demand from the god whatever they pleased. Torquemada (Mon- 
archia indiana, 1723, book X, chap. 14, II, p. 256) describes the 
same ceremony as follows: "Ten days before the big feast to Tezca- 
tlipoca, in the month Toxcatl, the priest came out of the temple 
with a flute with a shrill note, and facing in turn all four directions, 
played it. This was to call all men's attention to the coming feast. 
Then there was silence, and putting his finger on the ground, he used 
to take earth, and used to put it in his mouth and eat it as a sign of 
humility and adoration. Every one did the same, weeping bitterly, 
throwing himself prostrate on the ground, invoking the obscurity 
of the night and the wind and asking them with fervor not to leave 
them shelterless or forget -them." 

F. Lopez de Gomara (Historia de Mexico, p. 100, Antwerp, 1554) 
reports that when three thousand nobles came out from Mexico to 
meet Cortes, "each one as he reached Cortes touched his right hand 
to the ground, kissed it, bowed down, and passed forward in the order 
in which they came" (Cada uno, como a Cortes llegaba, tocaba su 
mano derecha en tierra, besabala, humillabase, y passaba adelante 
por la orden que venian). The Spanish text is somewhat ambiguous: 
it is not clear whether they kissed their own hands or the ground, 
but more probably the latter as a sign of humiliation and adoration 
as in the ceremony previously described. Gomara (p. 305) relates 
also that during the ceremonies accompanying the induction of a 
new ruler in Mexico, nobles as they approached the image of Hui- 
tzilopochtli (Vitzilopuchtli), god of war, touched the ground with 
one of their fingers and then kissed this finger. 

Juan Suarez de Cepeda, in 1581, reports that the Tarascans on 
the west coast of Mexico, on the occasion of an eclipse ("when the 
mother goddess playing with sun or moon puts her hands over them 
so that the light is shut off") make noises and eat earth and stones 
till the eclipse is over ("till the mother goddess returns home"). 
He further relates, "As soon as the people see the stars which are 
known as the Pleiades and which in their due course according to 

Mexico and Central America 181 

the movements of the heavens appear on the horizon, they run to 
eat, and do eat stones and clods of earth, just as if they were turrones 
[a kind of candy like nougat, very popular in Spain] and honey cakes, 
and they say they do this so that their teeth may be strengthened, 
and kept firmly in position so that they do not fall out. And thus 
they expect will happen to them, feeling like beasts, the opposite 
effect of what they try for and would wish" (De Cepeda, Relacion 
de los Indios Colimas de la Nueva Granada. Anales del Museo 
Nacional, IV, Mexico, 1912, pp. 516, 517). This last sentence would 
appear to be corrupt; it would seem to suggest that if their teeth 
do become loosened they are very put out about it. 

It was customary among the Aztec that in a certain form of 
sworn treaty the person rendering the oath put his finger on the soil 
and then lifted his finger to his mouth as though he was eating earth. 
In the same manner witnesses also rendered an oath (J. Kohler, 
Recht der Azteken, pp. 71, 109; and A. H. Post, Grundriss der 
ethnologischen Jurisprudenz, I, p. 483). 

The passages quoted have not been revealed by any previous 
writer on geophagy, but they are important in showing that the 
custom is of ancient date in Mexico and roots deeply in religious 
rites and practices. Lasch (p. 217) states merely that earth-eating 
is frequent in Mexico, notably among women and children, and 
that in Guadalajara, San Luis, Puebla, and other places are sold on 
the markets pastils made of white, lightly baked clay and said to be 
of good flavor. In regard to the Maya of southern British Honduras 
Mr. J. Eric Thompson informs me that "they are fond of eating a 
kind of white chalk which they find in the 'fill' of pyramids. In 
reply to a question as to why they eat this substance they state 
that it tastes good and is good for them. Personally I considered it 
absolutely tasteless. Children in the Maya villages are fond of eat- 
ing earth. Constant earth-eaters are said to suffer badly from hook- 
worm. Medical authorities with whom I discussed this question 
differed as to whether hookworm was the cause or the effect of this 

The fact that geophagy is still prevalent in Mexico may be 
gleaned from the following very interesting information kindly sent 
me by Professor Marshall H. Saville of the Museum of the American 
Indian, New York: — 

"Thirty years ago I visited the town of Etla in the state of 
Oaxaca, in a valley running west from the Oaxaca valley, and some 
eighteen miles from the city of Oaxaca. This town is now, and so 

182 Geophagy 

far as the archaeology is concerned, has always been occupied by 
the Zapotec Indians. 

"I made this visit in order to collect from the various groups of 
Indians from different parts of the state, who assembled here during 
the time of the fiestas celebrated annually in honor of the patron 
saint of Etla. 

"The church in which the saint is preserved was built in early 
colonial times on the pyramidal base of an ancient temple, which, in 
turn, had been erected on rising ground from which in places the 
bedrock projected. The ancient Mexicans often took advantages of 
such eminences, and the Christian priests often razed these old 
temples to replace them with churches. The fame of the Virgin of 
Etla is widespread throughout the Indian country of the state of 

"Nearing the town I saw many Indians in family groups return- 
ing to their own villages, as this was the last day of the fiesta. Many 
of them had their faces covered with dust or powder; in fact, they 
were very dirty. Others were busily engaged in eating powder from 
a gourd held in their hands. Even the little children were thus 
engaged. On getting closer to the church I heard the noise of ham- 
mering, and saw many Indians industriously hammering off pieces 
of the rock in the pyramid upon which the church stood. A con- 
siderable section of this base looked like a miniature quarry. The 
rock was obtained by means of stone hammers, and the pieces ground 
into powder by means of the said stone hammers. I am sorry that 
I did not get a sample of the rock, nor do I know to what class it 
belongs. However, it was quite soft and easily reduced to dust. 

"I afterwards learned that the Indians not only considered it 
efficacious for liver troubles, but that coming from this hallowed spot, 
probably having reference to olden times, taking this powder which 
was endowed with magical powers, insured their welfare for months 
to come. 

"Father Mayer has just told me that an Indian boy who recently 
went with him on a collecting trip for us up the Tapajoz River, from 
Santarem, Amazonia, picked up a clay ball from a site where pottery 
had been fabricated, and proceeded to eat it, saying that it was 
'good to eat.' 

"I have seen in the materia medica of native Indian villages in 
Mexico and Ecuador pieces of soft stone among the herbs, insects, 
etc., which are sold by the primitive Indian woman for medicine." 

Mexico and Central America 183 

According to 0. Stoll (Guatemala, 1886, p. 133), the custom of 
eating certain kinds of earth is generally practised among the Indians 
of Guatemala, and they do not keep it secret. The earth principally 
used by them is a light yellowish gray, strongly odorous substance 
which is a volcanic product weathered away into a powder. It is 
perfectly insipid and tastes somewhat like chalk. The Indians prize 
it as a spice of excellent quality and call it "white sweetness" (sak 
cab). Certain it is that this earth is a substitute for tooth-powder 
and contributes to preserve their white teeth. The quantity eaten 
at a time is small, as it is merely scattered over the food. Another 
way of consuming clayish materials is connected with religious ideas. 
The people who travel to the famous place of pilgrimage, Esquipulas, 
will take along from there blessed figures of saints made from a 
powdered earth by the clergy. These figures (benditos) are eaten by 
the devout, or are given away by them to friends and relatives, being 
credited with the power of relieving existing diseases and preventing 

Stoll affirms that geophagy is a genuine Indian custom which is 
very ancient; for in the Popol Vuh the two magicians, Hunahpu and 
Xbalanque, rub earth into the roasted birds with which they poison 
Cabrakan. The fact itself is correct, yet I do not believe that the 
story of the Popol Vuh can be invoked as an example of earth-eating 
in ancient times. In the text under consideration (translation of 
Brasseur de Bourbourg, p. 65, Paris, 1861; Villacorta and Rodas, 
Manuscrito de Chichicastenango, p. 206, Guatemala, 1927), Hu- 
nahpu and Xbalanque employ the earth as a ruse to overcome 
Cabrakan. "This bird," they say, "will be the means of his defeat; 
in the same manner as white earth will envelop this bird all over 
through our care, we shall knock him down on the earth, and in the 
earth we shall bury him." Cabrakan, after eating the bird, staggers 
and has no more strength on account of the earth rubbed into the 
bird. Moreover, it was only this one bird which was treated in this 
manner for the purpose of bringing about Cabrakan's downfall, not, 
however, the other birds which were plainly roasted at the fire with- 
out application of earth. It cannot even be inferred from this passage 
that birds were generally baked in earth at that time; it was merely a 
single specific case, a trick devised for the purpose of capturing 
Cabrakan. The body of the bird was rubbed in with tizate, and then 
white dust was sprinkled around it. The word tizate is explained by 
De Bourbourg as being derived from Nahuatl tiQatl, "a whitish 
earth, very friable, of which they avail themselves to polish metal, 

184 Geophagy 

make cement, etc." (see above, p. 179). The Spanish translation 
runs, "Y a uno de ellos (pajaros) le pusieron tizate encima, que es 
una tierra blanca, que rue" lo que le pusieron." Nevertheless I am 
convinced with Stoll that geophagy is very old in Guatemala and 
certainly goes back to pre-Columbian times. 

With reference to the treatment of the bird in the preceding 
legend it may be called to mind that according to A. Skinner (Mater- 
ial Culture of the Menomini, 1921, p. 194) meat was often roasted 
on coals by the Menomini and that small animals were sometimes 
rolled up in clay and baked in the hot ashes; this was a favorite 
method of dealing with porcupines; when the clay shell was split 
Open, the quills and hide of the animal adhered to the mold, and the 
roast came out clean. 

Stoll also mentions the morbid geophagy of children and adults 
who devour indiscriminately all kinds of earthy substances. Popular 
opinion ascribes to this habit a number of pathological symptoms, 
which is called into doubt by Stoll; he is convinced that many child- 
ren indulge in this habit without risking disease and that others who 
acquire the complex of diseases in question do not really eat earth. 

The Guatuso Indians of Costa Rica do not use salt, but are 
said by Bishop B. Thiel of San Jose* to enjoy a clayish earth in lieu of 
it (K. Sapper, Mittelamerikanische Reisen und Studien, 1902, p. 232). 

W. Sheldon (Brief Account of the Caraibs who inhabited the 
Antilles, Transactions Am. Antiquarian Soc, I, 1820, p. 412) has 
the following note: "The Caraibs as well as the Negroes, when in 
a state of melancholy, sometimes hanged themselves; or they would 
eat earth and filth until they brought on dropsies or other fatal 
disorders, which occasioned their death. The pernicious habit of 
eating earth appears to be endemical in the Westindia islands. 
The white Creoles are not free from a propension to this depraved 
appetite; and I have heard it much spoken of as prevailing among 
the people of Georgia and the Carolinas. The Caraib slaves would 
eat earth whenever they were punished or thwarted." 

T. Young (Narrative of a Residence on the Mosquito Shore dur- 
ing the Years 1839-41, p. 76, London, 1842) writes, "The Sambo 
girls have a custom of eating charcoal and sand to obtain it fresh 
and moist, and they have appeared to enjoy it with great gusto." 
The Sambo are descendants of Indians and Negroes who escaped 
from a wrecked slave ship, and live on the Mosquito Coast, Nicaragua. 

Regarding geophagy of the Negroes in the West Indies, see 
above, p. 159. 


Mention has been made of earth-eating as a means of com- 
mitting suicide among Negro slaves. The same is reported with 
reference to the Tupinamba of Brazil by Gabriel Soares de Sousa 
in his interesting "Noticia do Brazil" (chap. 161, Noticias ultra- 
marinas, III, pt. 1, p. 289), written in 1587. This is one of the 
earliest accounts of earth-eating in America and certainly the earli- 
est relative to South America; it has thus far been overlooked by 
every one who has written on the subject. "This people," Soares 
writes, "has another very great barbarity: when they are seized by 
disgust or when they are grieved to such a degree that they are 
determined to die, they begin to eat earth, every day a little, until 
they emaciate and their face and eyes will swell, and they will 
finally die; no one can help them or is able to dissuade them from 
committing suicide, as they affirm that the devil has taught it to 
them and that he appears to them whenever they are determined to 
eat earth." 

Alexander von Humboldt's observations were made on June 6, 
1800, when traveling down the Orinoco he spent a day in the village 
called La Concepcion de Uruana. His account is as follows: — 

"In the midst of this grand and savage nature live many tribes 
of men, isolated from each other by the extraordinary diversity of 
their languages: some are nomadic, wholly unacquainted with agri- 
culture, and using ants, gums, and earth as food; these, as the 
Otomac and Jarure, seem a kind of outcasts from humanity. 

"It was a very prevalent report on the coasts of Cumana, New 
Barcelona, and Caracas, visited by the Franciscan monks of Guiana 
on their return from the missions, that there were men on the banks 
of the Orinoco who ate earth. . . . The earth which the Otomac 
eat is a soft unctuous clay; a true potter's clay, of a yellowish-gray 
color due to a little oxid of iron. They seek for it in particular 
spots on the banks of the Orinoco and the Meta, and select it with 
care. They distinguish the taste of one kind of earth from that of 
another, and do not consider all clays as equally agreeable to eat. 
They knead the earth into balls of about five or six inches diameter, 
which they burn or roast by a weak fire until the outside assumes a 
reddish tint. The balls are remoistened when about to be eaten. . . . 
During the periodical swelling of the rivers, which is of two or three 
months' duration, the Otomac swallow great quantities of earth. 


186 Geophagy 

We found considerable stores of it in their huts, the clay balls being 
piled together in pyramidal heaps. The very intelligent monk, 
Fray Ramon Bueno, a native of Madrid (who lived twelve years 
among these Indians), assured us that one of them would eat from 
three quarters of a pound to a pound and a quarter in a day. Accord- 
ing to the accounts which the Otomac themselves give, this earth 
forms their principal subsistence during the rainy season, though 
they eat at the same time occasionally, when they can obtain it, a 
lizard, a small fish, or a fern root. They have such a predilection 
for the clay, that even in the dry season, when they can obtain 
plenty of fish, they eat a little earth after their meals every day as 
a kind of dainty. . . . The Franciscan monk assured me that he 
could perceive no alteration in their health during the earth-eating 

"The simple facts are therefore as follows: The Indians eat 
large quantities of earth without injury to their health; and they 
themselves regard the earth so eaten as an alimentary substance, 
i.e., they feel themselves satisfied by eating it, and that for a con- 
siderable time; and they attribute this to the earth or clay, and not 
to the other scanty articles of subsistence which they now and then 
obtain in addition. . . . The earth which we brought back with us, 
and which Vauquelin analyzed, is thoroughly pure and unmixed. . . . 
That the health of the Otomac should not suffer from eating so 
much earth appears to me particularly remarkable. Have they 
become accustomed to it in the course of several generations? 

"In all tropical countries, human beings show an extraordinary 
and almost irresistible desire to swallow earth; and not alkaline 
earths, which they might be supposed to crave to neutralize acid, 
but unctuous and strong-smelling clays. . . . With the exception 
of the Otomac, individuals of all other races who indulge for any 
length of time in the strange desire of earth-eating have their health 
injured by it. Why is it that in the temperate and cold zones this 
morbid craving for earth is so much more rare, and is almost entirely 
confined, when it is met with, to children and pregnant women; 
while in the tropics it would appear to be indigenous in all quarters 
of the globe?" 

It must be emphasized that Humboldt himself has not had any 
personal experience of the effect of geophagy on the Otomac. As 
to this point, he has depended entirely on the opinion of the Fran- 
ciscan friar, Ramon Bueno, and the lay brother, Juan Gonzalez, in 
whose station he spent the day. The conclusion that the Otomac 

South America 187 

are the only .people whose health is not impaired by earth-eating 
(subsequently repeated by many authors) does not seem very plaus- 
ible; no ill effects are reported, for instance, from Java, Sumatra, 
Borneo, or Melanesia. Cortambert's observations given below con- 
tradict Humboldt's opinion. The conclusion that geophagy is more 
prevalent in the tropics than in the temperate and cold zones holds 
good no longer, and is plainly refuted by the facts recorded in this 

J. Gumilla (Historia del Rio Orinoco, 1791, I, p. 179), said to be 
credulous and uncritical, denies that the Otomac ever eat pure 
earth, and states that their clay balls are mixed with maize flour 
and crocodile's fat; but the two informants of Humboldt affirmed 
unanimously that the Otomac never added crocodile's fat to their 
clay balls, and as to maize, they had never heard of it at Uruana. 

E. Cortambert (p. 218) gives the following account of the earth- 
eating habit among the tribes of the upper Orinoco: "This edible 
earth is a clay blended with iron oxid, reddish yellow in color. It 
is kneaded into balls or cakes allowed to dry and cooked when to be 
eaten, rather a ballast for the stomach than a food and commonly 
used only in times of famine. Although this clay does not contain 
any nutritive properties, it acts on the principal organ of digestion 
to such a degree that Indians can subsist on it for several months 
without any other resources. They sometimes fry it in seje oil, and 
then it offers some really substantial parts. This article of food, in 
general, does not affect injuriously the health of those who are 
accustomed to it; but the stomachs unaccustomed to it bear it with 
difficulty. Obstructions of the viscera and absorption of the chyle 
are the consequences most to be dreaded by those who want to 
partake of this strange dish. The Indians who lacking in modera- 
tion have a passion for earth considerably fall off in weight, and 
their reddish color will grow sallow. The taste for clay becomes so 
intense in some individuals that from houses made of ferruginous 
clay they will break off pieces and take them into their mouth with 
avidity. They are discriminating connoisseurs of clay, for not all 
kinds have the same pleasant taste to their palate; widely varying 
qualities are distinguished. A few whites in Venezuela have imi- 
tated the savages and do not despise cakes of fat earth." 

W. E. Roth, in his comprehensive study of the Guiana Indians 
(Bureau Am. Ethn., 38th Annual Report, p. 225), gives no observa- 
tions of his own, but quotes J. Gumilla, Humboldt, and J. Crevaux. 
Among the Otomac, children are given earth to lick and suck by 

188 Geophagy 

their mothers. Their bread made with alligator fat consists, at 
least half of it, of chalky earth which, however, does not injure them. 

According to J. CreVaux, all the Cayenne Carib are earth- 
eaters. In each house are found clay balls which the Indians smoke, 
dry, and eat pulverized. An hour after each meal they will take one 
of these balls, remove the outer layer that has been blackened, 
scrape the inside with a knife, and thus obtain a fine powder of which 
they swallow five or six grams in two doses. In an account of 
CreVaux's second expedition to South America in 1878-79, given in 
Globus (XL, 1881, p. 262), these observations are made in reference 
to the Rucuyennes of Guiana. Roth adds that very many children 
on the upper parts of the Amazon have this strange habit of eating 
earth, baked clay, pitch wax, and other similar substances; not only 
Indians, but also Negroes and whites. No conclusion, however, is 
drawn from this observation, which goes to show that the habit 
roots in a physiological cause. 

In his "Additional Studies of the Arts, Crafts and Customs of the 
Guiana Indians" (Bureau Am. Ethn., Bull. 91, 1929, p. 18) W. E. 
Roth adds the following: "In Surinam De Goeje speaks of a hungry 
Trio widow eating clay." 

"Near the Orinoco there is a tribe of savages who feed upon a 
species of unctuous clay, a practice which, though probably the out- 
growth of necessity, is not extremely rare throughout the Amazonian 
region. This clay, which is said to have a milky and not disagree- 
able taste, is a species of marga, or marl-subpinguis tenax, as it is 
called — which is found in veins of varying color. It is smooth and 
greasy, dissolving readily in the mouth, and is absorbed into the 
circulation" (W. G. Mortimer, History of Coca, p. 288, New York, 

T. Whiffen (The North-West Amazons, 1915, p. 124), who 
stamps clay-eating as a "vice," says that geophagy is very common 
among all the tribes of the Northwest Amazon, especially with the 
non-cocainists, the women and children. "As a rule it occurs among 
the very poorest — the slave clan, those who are least able to obtain 
such a luxury as salt, and it is found among the female children 
most of all . . . I never came across any man who ate clay, though 
I know of a boy who suffered from this neurotic [?] appetite. The 
clay, if it cannot be otherwise obtained, will be scraped from under 
the fireplace, and it is always eaten secretly. The Indians look up- 
on geophagy as injurious, but it appears to be ineradicable. I can- 
not help thinking it must be due to some great 'want' in Indian diet, 

South America 189 

a physical craving that the ordinary food of the tribes does not 
satisfy. It is instinctive. In the manufacture of coca they add clay. 
This suggests that if taken in small quantities it may have a neutral- 
izing and therefore a beneficial effect on some more or less injurious 
article of daily food. But it rapidly and invariably degenerates into 
a vice; and the habit appears to have a weakening and wasting 
effect on the whole body. In some parts of the Amazons, though 
not with these tribes, the clay is regularly prepared for use, and the 
vice is shared by other races than the Indian. Children who suffer 
from this extraordinary craving will swallow anything of a similar 
character, earth, wax, and Bates even mentions pitch, but they pre- 
fer the clay that is scraped from under the spot where the fire has 
been burning, probably because the chemical processes induced by 
the heat render it more soluble, easily pulverized, and hence more 
actually digestive in its action. It has been suggested that this 
disease was introduced into America by Negro slaves, and is not 
indigenous. This is a question for the bacteriological expert [?] 
rather than the traveler to decide, but as it indubitably exists among 
tribes that have not come in any contact with Negroes or Negro- 
influenced natives, it would seem to argue on the face of things that 
the similarity of vicious tastes was due to similarity of causation, 
rather than to contamination by evil example, unless the ubiquitous 
microbe is to be held responsible for this ill also." 

Geophagy occurs not rarely, especially among younger individuals 
on the Amazon (P. Ehrenreich, Beitrage zur Volkerkunde Brasiliens, 
p. 62). 

In regard to the Botocudo P. Ehrenreich (Zeitschrift fur Ethno- 
logie, XIX, 1887, p. 29) states merely that geophagy is widely 
diffused among them, and quotes St. Hilaire as saying that saline 
earths which are not rare in the province of Minas and saline plants 
serve them for salt the use of which is unknown to them (cf . above, 
p. 107). 

The Bakairi make dolls of a red loam which is licked by children. 
This loam, it is said by the natives, was eaten by their forebears 
before they became acquainted with mandioca. The Bororo drink 
water mixed with loam as an invigorating beverage, but do not 
eat loam (K. von den Steinen, Unter den Naturvolkern Zentral- 
Brasiliens, 1894, pp. 282, 481). 

According to T. Koch-Grunberg (Zwei Jahre unter den Indianern, 
1910, II, p. 291), edible clay is regarded as quite a delicacy. In his 
work "Von Roroima zum Orinoco" (III, pp. 298, 311, 337) Koch- 

190 Geophagy 

Griinberg mentions balls of dried clay and a fat white clay (probably 
kaolin, he adds) in form of balls and wrapped up with leaves, used 
as a relish. 

The Juan-Avo or Caripuna who live in the proximity of the cata- 
racts of the Madeira are described by Acunna as devouring earth 
(C. F. P. von Martius, Beitrage zur Ethnographie und Sprachen- 
kunde Amerika's, I, 1867, p. 415). 

The habit is not confined to the Indians; for Negroes and whites 
have the same propensity. At Pebas, in Peru, Mr. Hauxwell found 
it impossible to restrain his own children. On the Maranon the 
half-breeds are mostly addicted to the practice of dirt-eating. Even 
strangers, English, or the white Peruvians, who have intermarried 
with Mestizos and have had children by them, find its presence 
among their little ones the plague of their life. Children commence 
from the age of four or less, and frequently die from the results in 
two or three years. Officers there, who have the Indian or half- 
breed children as servants in their employ, sometimes have to use 
wire masks to keep them from putting the clay in their mouth ; and 
women, as they lie in bed sleepless and restless, will pull out pieces 
of mud from the adjoining walls of their room to gratify their 
strange appetite, or will soothe a squalling brat by tempting it with 
a lump of the same material (W. L. Distant, Journal Anthrop. 
Inst., X, 1881, p. 468). 

Gilij (Saggio di storia americana, II, p. 311) writes that the 
Indian women of the village Ranco on the Magdalena River while 
engaged in making pottery shove large pieces of clay into their 

According to Saffray (Globus, XXIII, 1873, p. 8), geophagy oc- 
curs rather frequently in some regions on the lower Magdalena River 
in Colombia, but is not endemic as on the Orinoco. The edible earth 
consists of a very fatty clay of yellowish or reddish color. 

Earth-eating is also reported from southern Brazil, Paraguay, 
Peru, and Bolivia. In Bolivia a light white clay (called pasa) is 
sold in the markets with victuals, and is also consumed by whites, 
particularly women. The clay is eaten either in its natural state as 
it is dug near Oruro, or is purified and fashioned into jars or images 
of saints. Odoriferous resins are sometimes blended with the clay 
to improve its taste. J. J. von Tschudi (Reisen durch Sudamerika, 
V, 1869) mentions a lady who daily enjoyed the clay figure of a 
saint for years. 

South America 191 

G. I. Molina (Saggio sulla storia naturale del Chili, p. 50, Bologna, 
1810) speaks of a potter's clay, called by him Argilla buccherina and 
found in the province Santiago, Chile, fine, light in weight, odorous, 
brown with yellow dots, dissolving in the mouth and sticking to the 
tongue. The nuns of the capital made delicate pottery from this 
clay large quantities of which were exported to Peru and Spain 
under the name "bucchero (bucaro) ware of South America." 
Water kept in these vessels assumes a pleasant flavor. Peruvian 
women were in the habit of eating fragments of this pottery (le 
donne peruane costumano di mangiarne i frammenti como le Mogo- 
lesi mangiano il vasellame di Patna); they were presumably at- 
tracted to it by its aromatic properties. Compare above, p. 140. 

F. Gautier (see Bibliography) found a white clay used in the 
province of Potosi of Bolivia, but did not hear of any disease accom- 
panied by clay-eating. 

Dr. A. Rengger (Reise nach Paraguay in den Jahren 1812 bis 
1826, p. 326, Aarau, 1835) writes, "Mr. de St. Hilaire met men who 
ate earth at Paranagua, Guaratuba, and in other parts of the 
Province Santa Catharina (in Brazil). He regards it as a degenerate 
taste. I do not share this opinion, but rather look upon the devour- 
ing of earth as a disease, cases of which frequently occurred to me 
in Paraguay and of which I cured a number of persons. In this 
country the matter was also looked upon as an evil habit. I have 
seen several pregnant women addicted to earth, who after delivery 
lost again this unnatural propensity." 

A. N. Schuster (Paraguay, 1929, p. 65), discussing geophagy in 
Paraguay, regards it as a disease caused by intestinal worms. 


Altheer, J. J.— Eetbare aardsoorten en geophagie. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift 
voor Nederlandsch Indie, Batavia, XIII, 1857, pp. 83-100. 

Geophagen in den Indischen Archipel. Beschrijving en onderzoek 
van eenige aardsoorten, uit de Residentie Kedirie, die door inlanders 
gegeten worden. Tijdschrift der Vereeniging t. Bevord. der Geneesk. 
Wetenschapen in Nederlandsch Indie, Batavia, V, 1857, pp. 808-812. 

In the Catalogue of the Surgeon General's Library this article is errone- 
ously credited to O. Brummer whose name appears merely in the preface as 
one who sent several specimens of edi ble clay to Batavia. These were examined 
and analyzed by Altheer whose name as that of the author is printed at the 
end of the article on p. 812. 

Biot (pere).— Note sur des matieres pierreuses employees a la Chine dans 
les temps de famine, sous le nom de Farine de Pierre. Annales de chimie 
et de physique, LXII, 1839, pp. 215-219. 

Translations of Chinese texts by E. Biot (see also Journal asiatique, 
1840, p. 290). 

Bouchal, L. — Geophagie [in Indonesien]. Mitteilungen der anthrop. Ges. 
Wien, XXIX, 1899, p. [11]. 

Camilli, S. — Observations physiologiques sur le geophagisme. Bulletin des 
sciences medicales, Paris, XVI, 1829, pp. 185-192. 

This is the analysis of an article published in Italian in the Giornale 
Arcadio of 1842 (not accessible to me). The translator, who signs D., antago- 
nizes several of Camilli's theories. 

Cortambert, E. — Coup d'oeil sur les productions et sur les peuplades geophages 
et les autres populations des bords de l'Orenoque. Bull, de la Society 
de Geographie, 1861, pp. 208-220. 

Cotting, J. R.— Analysis of a Specimen of Clay Found in Richmond County, 
which is eagerly sought after and eaten by many people, particularly by 
children. Southern Medical and Surgical Journal, Augusta, I, 1837, 
pp. 288-292. 

Cragin, F. W. — Observations on Cachexia Africana or Dirt-eating. American 
Journal of the Medical Sciences, XVII, 1835, pp. 356-364. 

Deniker, J.— The Races of Man, 1906, pp. 145-146. 

Ehrenberg, C. G. I— Mikrogeologie. Das Erden und Felsen schaffende 
Wirken des unsichtbar kleinen selbstandigen Lebens auf der Erde. 
Leipzig, 1854. 2 vols, folio. 

II — Uber die rothen Erden als Speise der Guinea-Neger. Abhandlungen 
der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, 1868, pp. 1-55. 

Ferrand, E.— Terres comestibles de Java. Revue d'ethnographie, V, 1886, 
pp. 548-549. 

Gautier, F. — Sur une certaine argile blanche que mangent les Indiens de 
Bolivie. Actes de la Societe scientifique du Chili, Santiago, V, 1895, 
pp. 85-86. 

Goebel, A. — Uber das Erde-Essen in Persien, und mineralogisch-chemische 
Untersuchung zweier dergleichen zum Genuss verwendeter Substanzen. 
Bull, de l'Academie imp. des Sciences de Saint-Petersbourg, V, 1863, 
col. 397-407. 

Hamy, E. T.— Les geophages du Tonkin. Bull, du Museum d'histoire naturelle, 
V, 1899, pp. 64-66. 


Bibliography 193 

Heringa, J.— Eetbare aarde van Sumatra. Natuurkundig Tijdschrift voor 
Nederlandsch Indie, XXXIV, 1874, pp. 186-189. 

Heusinger. — Die sog. Geophagie oder tropische (besser: Malaria-) Chlorose 
Krankheit aller Lander und Klimate dargestellt. Cassel, 1852. Non vidi. 

Hooper, D. and Mann, H. H.— Earth-eating and the Earth-eating Habit 
in India. Memoirs of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Calcutta, I, 1906, 
pp. 249-270. 

Hopffe, A. — Uber Infusorienerde (Bergmehl). Naturwissenschaftliche 
Wochenschrift, XVI, 1917, pp. 286-287. 

Humboldt, A. von. — Sur les peuples qui mangent de la terre. Annales des 
voyages, II, 1809, pp. 248-254. 

Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America. 
London, 1852-53, II, pp. 196, 495. 

Ansichten der Natur, third edition, 1849, I, p. 231. 

Aspects of Nature. Translated by Sabine. London, 1849, 1, pp. 25, 190. 

Lasch, R. — tiber Geophagie. Mitteilungen der anthropol. Gesellschaft 
Wien, XXVIII, 1898, pp. 214-222. 

Meigen, W.— "Essbare Erde" von Deutsch-Neu-Guinea. Monatsberichte 
der deutschen geologischen Gesellschaft, 1905, pp. 557-564. 

Mitra, Sarat Chandra. — Note on Clay-eating as a Racial Characteristic. 
Journal of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, VII, 1904-07, pp. 284-290. 

Spengler. — Die erdefressenden Menschen. Wochenschrift fur die gesammte 
Heilkunde, Berlin, 1851, pp. 321-327. 

Thompson, C. J. S. — Terra Sigillata, a Famous Medicament of Ancient Times. 
Proceedings of the XVIIth Internat. Congress of Medical Sciences, Section 
XXIII, London, 1913, pp. 433-444. 

Thorndike, L. — A History of Magic and Experimental Science during the 
First Thirteen Centuries of our Era. 2 vols., New York, 1923. 

Thurston, E. — Earth-eating. In his Ethnographic Notes in Southern India, 
pp. 552-554, Madras, 1906. 

Zaunick, R.— tiber "Mehlerde" im Anhaltischen 1617. Naturwissenschaft- 
liche Wochenschrift, XVI, 1917, p. 496. 


Abyssinia, 162 

acorn-meal, mixed with clay by Pomo 

and peasants of Sardinia, 108, 167, 

Acosta, J. de, 179 
Africa, 156-162 
Ainslie, 151 
Ainu, 148-149 
alcarraza, 167 
Algeria, 162 

almagro, clay found in Spain, 167 
al-Ta'alibi, 151 
alica, 163 

Altheer, 129, 132, 143, 167, 168 
aluminous earth, 138 
Amazon tribes, 188-189 
America, 170-191 
ampo, 129 
anaemia, in its relation to geophagy, 

Andamans, 110 
Angami Naga, 143 

ankylostomiasis, 104, 105, 106, 128, 161 
Annamese, 127, 128 
Annandale, 143 
ants'-nests, earth from, eaten, 133, 142, 

157, 158, 162, 168 
Ao Naga, 143 
Arabs, 153-155 
Argoll, 170 
Armenian earth, 150 
Australia, 139 
Aztec, 181 

Bakafri, 189 

Bali, 137 

Bandelier, 170 

Barbados, geophagy of Negroes in, 160 

bark, as food-substitute, 120 

Barrett, S. A., 173-174 

Batchelor, 149 

Beaver, 136 

Beccari, 131 

Belon, 166 

Bent, 165 

bergmehl, 168 

Berthelot, 164 

Best, E., 134 

Bethlehem, earth from cave near, 154, 

Biot, 111, 114, 119, 124 
Bogoras, 148 
Bolivia, 190, 191 
Borneo, 131-133 
Botocudo, 189 
Bourke, 171 
Brazil, 185 

bread, mixed with earth, 168 

Browne, J. O., 161 

Browne, P., 159 

Bruce, 136 

bucaro pottery, eaten by Peruvian and 

Portuguese women, 108, 191; eaten 

in Spain and Portugal, 167 
Burma, 143 
burnt earth, 141 
Burton, R., 154, 162 

Cabeza de Vaca, 170 

cachexia africana, 160 

cachexy, 128 

Cahuilla Indians, 174 

Camilli, 140, 167, 168 

Canaan, T., 155 

cannibalism, in China, 120; in New 

Zealand, 134 
Carib, 160, 184, 188 
Caripuna, 190 
Carolina, 177, 184 
Catawba Indians, 170, 171 
Central America, 183-184 
Cepeda, 180 

chalk, mixed with grain, 163 
Chang-kung Grotto, 112 
Chanvallon, T. de, 156 
Chardin, 151 
Chavannes, 125 
Ch'en Nan, 119 
Cheyenne, 110 
chili, mixed with clay and eaten in 

Mexico, 179; in Spain, 167 
chilmolli, 179 
Chin of Upper Burma, 143 
China, clay-eating in, 111-126 
cholera, earth eaten as remedy for, 133; 

powdered clay for, 147 
Chou li, 124 
Chukchi, 148, 149 
Cimolean earth, 150 
clay, used as a cosmetic in China, 126; 

in New Guinea, 136 
coca, eaten with clay, 189 
Cole, F. C, 133 
Colle, 157 
Colombia, 190 
Congo, 156-158 
Cortambert, 187 
Cortes, 180 

Corydalis ambigua, 149 
Costa Rica, 184 
Cotting, 176 
Couvreur, 122, 125 
Covel, 164 
Cushing, 171 




Cragin, 160, 161 
Crevaux, 188 

d'Albertis, 136 

Davis, J. F., 118 

d'Azara, 107 

Delhaise, 158 

Deniker, 106, 167 

De Rochas, 138 

De Vaux, 150 

diarrhoea, clay pills for, in Australia, 

139; clay cakes for, among Tungusian 

tribes, 147 
diatomaceous earth, 102, 110, 154 
Diaz, 178 

Dioscorides, 150, 165 
Distant, 158, 190 

dog bites, cured by Lemnian earth, 164 
dragons, supposed to feed on clay, 113 
Du Halde, 125 
Dumoutier, 127 
Dyaks, 130-132 
dysentery, earth eaten as remedy for, 

133, 145 

earth, used as tooth-powder, 183 

earth-rice, 102, 113, 114 

Edrlsi, 151 

Egypt, clay-eating in modern, 153; 
geophagy not practised in ancient, 
103; Nishapur clay in mediaeval, 151 

Egyptian earth, 150 

Ehrenberg, 101, 124, 140, 156, 160, 162, 
163, 168, 169, 178 

Ehrenreich, 189 

Ehrmann, 156 

Ellis, 134 

Emmons, 176 

Erman, 146 

Eskimo, 174, 175 

Esquipulas, 183 

Europe, 163-169 

Evans, 132 

Eylmann, 139 

face powder of clay, 126 

famines, in China, 117 

Fauvel, 124 

Fee, 163 

Finland, 168, 169 

Finsch, 137 

food-substitutes in famines, 120-124 

Forde, C. Daryll, 172 

Ftilleborn, 161 

Galen, 150, 164, 165 
Gaud, 157 
Gautier, 191 
Geerts, 116 
Georgi, 146 
Georgia, 176, 184 
Germany, 168 
Gilij, 190 

Gilyak, 148, 149 

Glaumont, 138 

Golberry, 156 

Gomara, 178, 180 

Gordon, 123 

grass, as food-substitute, 120, 121 

graves, earth from, eaten, 154, 155, 160, 

Guatemala, 183-184 
Guatuso Indians, 184 
Guiana, 187 
Guinea, 156 
Gumilla, 187 
gypsum, mixed with alica, 163 

Haemodorum, root of, eaten with earth 

in Australia, 139 
Hajaj, 153 
Halkin, 158 
Hamy, 127 
Hanbury, 125 
Haug, 150 
Hegiage, 166 
helminthiasis, 128 
hemorrhoids, clay pills for, 147 
Heringa, 129, 147 
Herskovits, 161 
Hildegard of Bingen, 168 
Hill, 167 
Hoernle, 141 
Honduras, 181 

honey, mixed with earth, 111 
Hooper and Mann, 101, 104, 106, 107, 

125, 140, 142, 147, 148, 153 
Hopi edible clay, analysis of, 172-173 
Hopi Indians, 172 
Hose and McDougall, 132 
Hrdlicka, 173 
Hughes, G., 160 

Humboldt, 129, 156, 168, 185-187 
Hutton, 143 

Ibn al-Baitar, 150, 151 

Ibn Haukal, 151 

Ibn Zakkariya, 151 

Iguaces, 170 

India, 140-143; Persian earth in, 151 

indigestion, clay eaten for, 173 

Indo-China, 127-128 

infusorial earth, 102 

intestinal diseases, clay-eating in, 137 

Iroquois, 106 

Irving, 160 

Ishak Ibn AmrSn, 150 

Italmen, 146, 147 

Japan, geophagy not practised in, 103 

Java, 129-131 

Jochelson, 147, 148 

Jolly, 141 

Jourdanet, 178, 179 

Joyce, 178 

Juan-Avo, 190 



Kai-uku, 134 

Kamchatka, 146-148 

Kanjur, 144 

Kenya, 161 

Ki Shu-ye, 112 

kieselguhr, 102, 114 

King chou ki, 112 

Kiu hwang hwo min shu, 121 

Kiu Wu tai shi, 120 

Ko Hung, 112 

Koch-Griinberg, 189 

Kohler, 181 

Koryak, 146 

Krickeberg, 106 

Kwangyuki, 111, 112 

Kyffhauser, stone butter of, 168 

Labillardiere, 129, 137 

lactation, earth eaten to promote, 139, 

landslips, 112, 115 
Lane, E. W., 153 
Lapland, 169 
Lasch, 103, 125, 156, 181 
Lawson, 176 

laxative, clay-eating as, 171 
Leclerc, 150, 153, 166 
Legey, 162 
Legge, 125 

Lemnos, sigillate earth of, 164-166 
Leo Africanus, 150 
Leucogaeum, 163 
Li Shi-chen, 114, 117 
Li-su, eating earth mixed with honey, 

Lin-ngan fu, edible earth of, 111 
Ling piao lu i, 126 
Lithgow, 154 

liver troubles, clay eaten in, 182 
loam, drunk with water, 189 
Lopatin, 146-147 

Macedonia, 168 

Madagascar, geophagy not practised in, 

Magdalena River, 190 
Malaysia, 129-133 
Malta, earth from grotto in, 166 
Maori, 134 
Martin, 133 
Martinique, 156 
Martius, 190 
Maya, 181 
Medicinal earth, 144 
Meigen, 137 
Melanesia, 136-139 
Mely, F. de, 114, 115 
Mexico, 178-182 
Mills, 143 
mineral flour, 114 

Mitra, S. C., 104, 125, 128, 140, 141 
Molina, 140, 191 

Moqui Indians, 171 
Morocco, 162 
Mortimer, 188 
Mosquito Coast, 184 
mountain meal, 102, 123, 168 
Muller, J. B., 144 

Nan chao ye shi, 111 

Navaho, 172 

Negroes, 156-161, 184, 189, 190 

Neuhauss, 136 

New Caledonia, 137-138 

New Guinea, 136-137 

New Hebrides, 139 

New Mecklenburg, 137 

New Zealand, 134 

Nicaragua, 184 

Nieuwenhuis, 131 

Nishapur, edible earth of, 150 

North America, 170-177 

oath, earth-eating in, 142, 143, 181 

Oaxaca, 181, 182 

ochre, in Polynesia, 135 

olla, 167 

ooze, from lakes, consumed in Mexico, 

178-179; in New Zealand, 134 
Oraibi Indians, 171 
ordeals, earth eaten in, 131 
Otomac, 185-187 
Ouseley, 151 
Overbergh, 157, 158 

Pallas, 145 

Pamunkey Indians, 170, 171 

Papago Indians, 173 

Paraguay, 190, 191 

Patna, pottery of, eaten, 140 

Paucot, 127 

Pen ts'ao kang mu, 114 

Pen ts'ao kang mu shi i, 117 

Peri, 127, 128 

Persia, Armenian earth in, 151; clay- 
eating in, 150-153 

Peru, 190 

Peter of Abano, 166 

Philippines, ceremonial earth-eating in, 

plague, Lemnian earth as remedy for, 

Pliny, 150, 163, 164, 165 

P'o, T'ai tribe, indulging in earth, 111 

poisons, cured by sigillate earth, 164 

Polak, 153 

Polynesia, 133-135 

Pomo Indians, 108, 173 

Popol Vuh, 183 

Portugal, 167 

Post, 131, 181 

pottery-making and clay-eating, 170, 
171, 190 



pottery sherds, consumed in India, 140; 

in Peru, 190 
pregnancy, clay-eating during, 109, 136, 

137, 140, 141, 157, 159, 161, 179 
Prowe, 104 
Przyluski, 125 
Pueblos, 173 
Purchas, 170 

Raghuvamca, 141 

rains of earth, 119 

Rasmussen, 175 

Rauwolf, 162 

Razes, 151 

Read and Pak, 116 

Reade, 158 

Rengger, 191 

Richardson, Sir John, 174 

Rigg, 129 

Rockhill, 119, 144 

Roth, H. L., 131 

Roth, W. E., 139, 187, 188 

Russell, F., 174 

Rutter, 132 

sacred earth, 142 

Saffray, 190 

Sahagun, 178, 179 

saints' tombs, earth from, 155 

saline earth, 106, 107 

salt, in its relation to clay-eating, 106, 

157, 184, 189 
Sambo, 184 
Samian earth, 150, 164 
Sanang Setsen, 144 
sand, as substitute for salt, 133 
Sapper, 184 
Sardinia, 167 
Sarrasin, 138 

Saville, Marshall H., 181-182 
Saxony, fossil flour used in, 168 
Scherman, 143 
Schiefner, 144 
Schlimmer, 153 
Schmitz, 157 
Schott, 114 
Schurtz, 107 
Schweinfurth, 157 
Seidel, 150 
Semites, geophagy not practised by 

ancient, 103 
Senegambia, 156 
Shan States, 143 
Shan-tung t'ung chi, 115 
Sheldon, 184 
Shen sien chuan, 112 
Sheng shwi yen t'an lu, 117 
shi mien, stone meal, mineral flour, 

Shu king, 124 
Siam, 143 
Siberia, 145-148 

Sierra Leone, 156 

sigillate earth, 150, 164-166 

Siebold, 148 

Simpson, E., 172 

Skinner, 184 

Smith, Harlan I., 176 

Smith, W. C, 143 

Smyth, R. B., 139 

soap, clay used as, 174 

soapstone, eaten with flour, 124, 142 

Soares de Sousa, 185 

Solanum fendleri, tubers of, eaten with 
clay, 171 

South America, 185-191 

Spain, 167 

Speck, Frank G., 170, 171 

Speiser, 139 

St. Hilaire, 189, 191 

steatite, mixed with wheat flour, in 
China, 124; in India, 142; in New 
Caledonia, 137, 138; in Siam, 143 

Stefansson, 174 

Steinen, K. von den, 189 

Steller, 146 

Stephan, 137 

Sternberg, 148 

Stevenson, M. C, 171 

Stoll, 183, 184 

stone butter, 145, 146, 168 

stone meal, 102, 114 

Strahlenberg, 145 

Strong, W. D., 174 

Such, Georgiana B., 162 

suicide, earth taken in, 160, 184, 185 

Sung shi, 115 

Sung shu, 115, 120 

Surinam, geophagy of Negroes in, 161 

Sweden, 169 

syphilis, 146 

Tahiti, red earth formerly eaten in, 134 

T'ai-hang Mountains, 112 

tana ampo, 129 

Tang shu, 115, 120 

Tarascans, 180 

Taupo Lake, in New Zealand, 134 

tecuitlatl, 178, 179 

termites'-nests, earth of, eaten, 157 

terra sigillata, 150, 164-166 

Tezcatlipoca, 179, 180 

Thompson, C. J. S., 166 

Thompson, J. Eric, 181 

Thorndike, 164, 166, 168 

Thurston, 105, 106 

Tibet, 144 

ticatl, 179, 183 

Tietze, 153 

Timor, 131 

tizate, 183 

Torquemada, 179, 180 

Tremearne, 162 

Tripoli, 162 



Tschudi, 190 
t'u fan, 113 
T'ung chi, 115, 119 
Tung Wei, 121 
Tungus, 146, 147 
Tupinamba, 185 

Vauquelin, 186 

Venezuela, whites of, indulging in clay, 

Veth, 131 
Vinayavastu, 144 
Virgin, milk of, 154; of Etla, 182 
Virginia, Indians of, 170 
vitriol, 145, 146 
vomiting, stopped by eating clay, 109, 

151, 166 

Wagner, M. L., 167 
Walker, 132 

Wang Lie, 112 

Wang P'i-chi, 117 

Watt, 140 

Wei Ts'ang t'u shi, 144 

West Indies, geophagy among Negro 

slaves of, 159 
Whiffen, 188 
Wiedemann, 151 
Wirz, 136, 137 
Wood, J., 153 
Wu Tai shi, 122 

Yao Sheng, 112 
Yi-hing hien chi, 112 
Young, T., 184 

Zapotec Indians, 182 
Zuni, 108, 171 

7 woftk 

• * mo