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Origin of Fragrances
Through smoke…
T.B., June 21, 2016
Perfumes/Maler der Grabkammer des Menna
Perfumes/Maler der Grabkammer des Menna
 
Oils and perfumes were used in Egypt even before unification around 3100 B.C. Although burials from the predynastic period were generally little more than shallow graves in the sand, the presence of grave goods indicates that the early Egyptians already believed in an afterlife. In addition to such essentials as food and drink, the dead were often buried with a range of cosmetics and the raw materials for their preparation. Perfumes made of resin, lime and oil have been discovered in predynastic graves, along with ingredients such as juniper and henna, oil-producing seeds and imported coniferous resins. One royal tomb at Abydos (circa 3,000 B.C.) contained jars complete with their original contents of coniferous resin mixed with plant oils and animal fats, and the excavators of another royal tomb at the site found the sandy floors saturated with perfumes to a depth of 1 meter (3 feet); the scent was so strong that it still pervaded the entire tomb.

Perfumes/Diffuseur of perfumes
Perfumes/Diffuseur of perfumes
 
This lavish use of perfumes in burials continued into the Old Kingdom, and numerous tomb scenes from this period show the tomb owners inhaling perfumes and flowers whose scent was thought sufficiently potent to restore their senses. The earliest evidence for massage also dates from this time: contemporary reliefs in tombs at Saqqara show both foot massage and reflexology, while scenes from the Temple of Niuserre show the king';s feet being massaged with oil. Tomb walls also portray scenes of perfume production and jars marked with the perfumes they contain, known as the Seven Sacred Oils: Festival Perfume, Hekenu Oil, Sefeti Oil, Nekhensem Oil, Tewat Oil, Best Cedar Oil and Best Libyan Oil. Listed in the Pyramid Texts, the oldest body of religious writings in the world, these oils appear on tomb walls, offering slabs, coffins and papryi. They were used in daily temple ritual, funerary rites, cosmetics and medicines, and although only the wealthy were likely to own a full set of oils, most people could afford at least one or two.

Perfumes/Unguentarium egyptian, 1323 BC
Perfumes/Unguentarium egyptian, 1323 BC
 
The Egyptians often travelled far afield to obtain the materials to make their oils and perfumes, and by the Middle Kingdom the myrrh imported from Punt - the region around present day Somalia - was added to the seven existing Sacred Oils. Perfume jars of this date from Dahshur still contain myrrh and pistacia resin, and a jar found in a tomb at el-Bersheh contained cedar resin that had been used to preserve the internal organs of the mummy. The use of such fragrant imports in mummification is referred to in literature of the time, one text bemoaning the state of the nation when supplies of the cedar and oils used in mummification had run dry.

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