Biology and Jewelry: Personal Adornment as a Manifestation of Biophilia
Maura C. Flannery, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics and Science, College of Professional Studies
The biologist Edward O. Wilson defines biophilia as an innate human urge to have contact with other species. Wilson describes it in relation to a need to spend time in natural environments, surrounded by animals and plants. I would argue that we also attempt to satisfy our biophilic desire by surrounding ourselves with plants, pets, and representations of plants and animals. Such representations are found not only in our homes but on our persons, in the form of jewelry. Since biophilia seems to be in part a genetically influenced trait, it is not surprising that adornments with representations of plants and animals are found in cultures throughout the world, both now and in the past. For example, Chinese jade jewelry sometimes features images of lotus flowers or cranes, and the ancient Egyptians used images of cats, snakes, and scarab beetles in their jewelry. Insects, which in other contexts are seen as disgusting, are considered particularly attractive in jewelry. This is not just a matter of the insect being made more palatable by being transmuted into gold and gems; Jennifer Trask and other jewelers actually incorporate insects, for example, Japanese beetles, into their work. Discussing beetles and jewelry with students is an interesting way to bring up the topic of biophilia, and thus lead into the whole question of the significance of other species to human beings in many different cultures.