GALLSTONES
(Singular nouns: Fr-calcul biliaire; Ger-Gallenstein(e); Nor-gallestein; Rus-каменб)




A. Gallstones from three human beings (large one on right - "2.3 cm from end to end");  undefined as to type and now "disappeared," I suspect all would have been classified as pigment stones, but the broken ones exhibit characteristics that suggest they were composite (i.e., "mixed") stones.  (© photo by Augustine G. DiGiovanna, Salisbury University;  from http://www.biologyofhumanaging.com/, used with permission)



B.  Gallstones.  Cholesteral gallstones -- note size and caption on photograph.  (photo in public domain (per Vijnana Executives Sonja & Krishnaprem);  from www,auroville.com www,auroville)  



C.  Gallstones.   Sizes are variable.  a. tetrathedron - rough sketch of several I saw in the 1930s;   b. subcrystalline shape with rounded edges and corners;  c. portion of globular stone that exhibits concretionary growth.   (b & c images retouched, etc.-- from advertisements for gallstones of oxen on  www.geocities.com  &  www.ec21.com)

DESCRIPTION: Gallstones, sometimes called bladder stones, are one of three kinds of relatively common human calculi;  the other two are kidney stones and prostatoliths.  These “stones,” unlike gizzard stones (q.v.), are produced as the result of biochemical deposition within their hosts.  Approximately 80 per cent of gallstones are cholesterol gallstones, which consist chiefly of cholesterol plus bile salts (e.g., taurocholate and glycocholate);  the remaining 20 per cent are usually referred to as pigment gallstones, which consist chiefly of bilirubin (the pigment) and calcium salts such as calcium carbonate. (Agnes, 2002).  But, composite (= mixed) stones -- i.e., those consisting of a mixture of cholesterol, bilirubin and calcium -- have also been recorded and illustrated -- see Klatt  (1998).
    Colors - diverse green hues, yellow-brown - typical of cholesterol stones;  tan, brown and/or black (due to bilirubin pigment?), commonly mottled - typical of pigment stones.     H. not recorded, to be checked when I can get access to some (cholesterol gallstones) - ~3 (pigment gallstones);  gallstones provide a prime example of how aggregates should not have their hardnesses checked:  That is to say, gallstone aggregates are easily disaggregated and consequently, if scratched with just about anything solid, rather than used as the scratcher, they usually yield low, false hardness values.)
    S.G.  differs with composition -- cholesterol stones - 0.98-1.07 (so, some of these float on water!)calcareous 2.70+.05
    Light transmission - translucent to opaque
    Luster - dull to pearly to subvitreous  
    Breakage - irregular, tend to crumble with only slight impacts
    Miscellaneous Some gallstones are quite obviously concretionary (Figure C, c) whereas others do not have that appearance even though they must have had similar histories of growth.  One group of 98 human gallstones, which I once examined, were brown with irregularly shaped, nearly black zones;  ranged  from ~ 2 mm to 1 cm in greatest dimension; and were roughly tetrahedral, with the smaller ones quite angular and exhibiting planar faces whereas the larger ones, though exhibiting faces, had rounded edges and corners (see Figure C, a & b).  Others, only fragments of which I have seen, included several with diverse green hues (Figure A). 
 
OTHER NAMES:  Cholelith is a seldom-used synonym for gallstone. Individual stones and groups of consanguineous stones are usually described on the basis of their composition -- e.g., cholesterol gallstones.   Bezoar stones (and synonymous designations) seem best only to be mentioned, not discussed in this context;  for additional information, see Acosta (1962)  and/or  Mel Fisher... (nd).

USES: 
Jewelry:  
Of the diverse calculi, to date, I have found only gallstones recorded as having been used as parts of jewelry. -- One recently fashioned set of gallstone jewelry -- a necklace, bracelet, ring and earrings -- designed by one of the doctors who removed the stones from a young woman at the Sree Uthradom Thirunal Hospital in Kerala, India, includes approximately 300 gallstones of different colors, shapes and sizes; a photograph of the set is on the internet (The Hindu Business Line, 2005).
Miscellany:
For many centuries, human gallstones and other calculi have been recognized as malevolent, and yet collected and carried as “charms."   In addition, calculi, including gallstones, from other animals (e.g., cattle and llamas) have been fashioned into decorative and functional items;  a noteworthy example is a mounted,  large bezoar that is in Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Musem (Zackowitz, 2012).
 

OCCURRENCES & LOCALITIES:  It is often said that "women are twice as likely as men to develop gallstones," that vegetarian diets lead to few gallstones, etc.  But, statistics cited to support such generalizations are considered skewed by some analysts.  
        One thing I continue to ponder is the possible effect the composition of ground water may have on "growth" of calculi:  In the 1950s, when I was investigating all sorts of things in south-western Virginia, it became rather clear to me and my colleagues that an out-of-the-ordinary percentage of people known to have calculi were living in areas underlain by certain rocks and their residual soils.  Indeed, the narrow valleys where they lived were sometimes referred to as
"stone boy hollows."

REMARKS:   The designation gall appears to have Indo-European roots and to come into current English from the Old English gealla, galla through Middle Englishthe word stone is from the Old English stān, used of common rocks, precious gems, concretions in the body, memorial stones, from Proto-Germanic stainaz (cf. Old Norse steinn, Danish steen, Old High German & German stein, Gothic stains), from Proto-Indo-European stai- "stone"  (Harper, 2001).   But, the term calculi has, in my opinion, a much more interesting derivation, especially when one considers its singular, calculus, as applied to that branch of mathematics that so many of us loved to hate:  In any case this designation and, of course, also the verb calculate (etc.) apparently stem from the Latin calculus that alluded to a stone used in counting or reckoning.

Because of their compositions, shapes (etc.), any use, indeed preservation, of many of these stones in jewelry or parts of decorative pieces virtually require their being embedded in or coated by some protective medium -- e.g., a hard transparent plastic.  Otherwise, they may decompose, be easily broken or have their exposed surfaces scratched rather easily.

Animals other than humans -- e.g., cattle (esp. oxen) and llamas -- have gallstones.  These stones, either whole or powdered (and in some cases made into pills), are marketed widely under the pharmaceutical name Calculus Bovis.  Stated functions of the medicines include lowering fevers that cause
convulsions or loss of consciousness and reducing sore throats and boils caused by toxins. I know nothing of their effectiveness.

Re the set of jewelry made from gallstones mentioned under the USES subheading:  To
my mind this jewelry is perhaps the most incredibly ill-conceived and distastefully revolting jewelry ever fashioned.  My fear is that it may only portend "more to come."   My hope is the future will see a reduction in laparoscopic cholecystectomy and open surgical removal of gall stones whereby such stones may be preserved, and an increase in lithotripsy and chemical procedures whereby the stones are destroyed in place.

Patron saints for Gallstones -- four of them(!):   Benedict of Narsia/Norsia/Nursia, Italy
(ca. 480-547), founder of Western Monasticism and also noted as a patron saint for speleologists(!).   Drogo -- a.k.a. Dreux, Drugo, Druon -- born of Flemish nobility (1105-1186) and reportedly able to bilocate.   Florentius of Strasburg, native of Ireland, Bishop of Strasburg (died ca. 693) has his "Patronage" listed as galls stones and ruptures.   Liborius of noble birth in Gaul (early 4th century-396), who has a long list of "Patronage" that includes calculi per se as well as gallstones and even gravel, has been illustrated as a bishop carrying small stones on a book and also as a bishop with a peacock. (The Catholic Community Forum, nd)

SIMULANTS: None.  Indeed, what might be a reason to produce such?

REPLICAS:  None unless some are made for anatomical studies, and I have found none adverized for such use. .

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R.V. Dietrich © 2012
Last update:
June 25, 2012
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