Pearl in freshwater mussel

The fast flowing River Tay in Perthshire has been known since Roman times as a source for pearls which come from a freshwater mussel. The mussel lives in the gravelly bed of the river and forms pearls when irritating grit or sand becomes lodged within the shell. Most pearls are brown and valueless but the best have a faint smoky lustre and are highly prized. The freshwater pearl mussel has become rare as a result of irresponsible pearl fishing and pollution in rivers both in Scotland and Europe. In the clean Scottish rivers, pearl fishers have killed thousands of mussels hoping to find one or two pearls. In order to protect this rare mollusc pearl fishing became illegal in 1998.

  • Material/Medium: shell
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  • Accession number: 1979.1.983
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