Necklace of Rosary Pea and Job's Tears beads
This beaded necklace, collected in 1997 in Mexico by the Anthropology Department's Cordy Intern in Folk Art, is made from seeds known as Precatory Pea and Job's Tears. The Precatory Pea (L. Abrus precatorius), also known as the Rosary Pea, is a perennial vine that grows naturally in tropical climates. It has alternate compound leaves, light purple flowers, and red and black seeds like those seen in this necklace. Job's Tears (L. Coix lacryma-jobi) is a variety of tall grass that also grows wild in tropical regions and produces seeds (the larger white to gray ones above), which are frequently used in jewelry and rosaries.
This necklace from the Science Museum of Minnesota's collections is part of the focus of a current research project. Through an award from the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections (SPNHC), Rose Kubiatowicz is developing EMSDSes, or Ethnobotany Material Safety Data Sheets, for use in museum collections. Much like regular MSDSes for hazardous or toxic chemicals, the EMSDSes specify the potential health hazards that some ethnobotanical materials in museum collections may hold for humans.
Ethnobotany is the scientific study of indigenous uses of plants and the relationships between plants and people. Museum collections often hold cultural or ethnological artifacts made from natural materials such as grasses, seeds, or other plant parts. Often these items are used in different cultures for various religious, medical, ritual, or other purposes because of their very potency. For instance, the Science Museum has in its collections poison-tipped darts from the Jivaro of the Ecuadorian Amazon. Though Precatory Pea seeds (shown in the necklace above and detailed below) are highly toxic and could potentially kill an adult, cultures throughout the world use this plant's leaves and roots in teas, tinctures, and salves for various ailments.
Precatory Pea beads (middle) with Job's Tears on either end.
"Oh No! Ethnobotany" is a term coined by Rose Kubiatowicz to describe a potentially hazardous ethnobotanical artifact, for which an Ethnographic Material Safety Data Sheet exists. These sheets discuss for each collection item: health hazard information; the poisoning potential of the material(s); the effects of exposure; first-aid measures; labeling, safe handling, and storage requirements; chemistry of the hazardous material; stability; and ethnobotanical uses worldwide.