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Origin of Fragrances
Through smoke…
T.B., June 21, 2016
Perfumes/Pellat_Cave  à parfums
Perfumes/Pellat_Cave à parfums
 
In the famous Middle Kingdom story of Sinuhe, the once-exiled courtier returns to a hero's welcome in Egypt. After being anointed with the best oil (instead of the inferior grease he had used when abroad) he is given a palace with choice perfumes in every room. Many of the raw materials for such perfumes including myrrh, ladanum, pistacia resin, cinnamon, perfumed oil and frankincense, were imported from Punt where they were imagined to be guarded by a huge golden serpent, the Lord of Punt. Fabled was this land of perfume that even its birds were said to be anointed with myrrh and have claws full of unguent.

Perfumes/Infusions Musc Tonkin & Castoreun
Perfumes/Infusions Musc Tonkin & Castoreun
 
Four hundred years later, scenes in the temple of the female pharaoh Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari recored a great trading expedition to the land of Punt to obtain the fragrang woods and resins used in temple rituals. The mission also took incense tree saplings back to Egypt: Thiry-one fresh 'antiuw' (resin) trees brought back as wonders of Punt are shown on the temple walls. Several of Hatshepsut's New Kingdom successors also attempted to import trees and plants. During his military campaigns to Syria and Asia Minor the great conqueror Tuthmosis III also found time to collect rare plants, which he sent back to Egypt to be planted in the gardens of Karnak temple; the relief scenes recording these exotic plants are regarded as the oldest herbal in the world. Such temple gardens supplied the millions of flowers, herbs and spices used in rituals, medicines and perfume production; At Amarna, traces of almonds were found along with imported jars of resin and quantities of incense at the city's temple sites.

Perfumes/Albâtre et verres
Perfumes/Albâtre et verres
 
The funerary uses of perfumes and oils also continued into the New Kingdom. The burial of the young pharaoh Tutankhamun in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes was accompanied by huge quantities of perfumes, oils, incense, flowers and herbs - his mummy was doused in sacred perfumes, swathed in floral garlands and surrounded by jars originally containing over 350 litres (77 gallons) of perfume! On the back of the golden throne found in the tomb is a massage scene involving the king and his wife Ankhesenamun.

Many perfume ingredients were still imported. At Amarna, bulk imports of scented resins were found inside Canaanite amphorae, and a number of other oils and perfumes were imported from Cyprus, Asia Minor, Babylon and the Kadesh region. Scenes on the walls of the hypostyle hall of Seti I at Karnak temple depict conquered Asiatics extracting cedar resin for export to Egypt, and Seti himself announced how he had conquered southern lands in order to bring the gods' tribute of gum and myrrh and cinnamon and all the pleasant sweet wood of Punt.


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