Download Cosmetics, Perfumes and Incense in Ancient Egypt PDF

TitleCosmetics, Perfumes and Incense in Ancient Egypt
TagsResin Incense Ancient Egypt Perfume Nature
File Size2.5 MB
Total Pages14
Table of Contents
                            p. 41
	p. 42
	p. 43
	p. 44
	p. 45
	p. 46
	p. 47
	p. 48
	p. 49
	p. 50
	p. 51
	p. 52
	p. 53
		Front Matter
		The Bronze Statuette of Khonserdaisu in the British Museum [pp. 1-2]
		Miscellanea [pp. 3-5]
		The Numerical Value of a Magical Formula [pp. 6-9]
		Funerary Designs on Predynastic Jars [pp. 10-18]
		A New Letter to the Dead [pp. 19-22]
		Die Bitte um ein Kind auf einer Grabfigur des frühen Mittleren Reiches [p. 23]
		Regarding Receipts in the Zenon Archive [pp. 24-30]
		A Note on the Coronation Rites in Ancient Egypt [pp. 31-32]
		The Secret Chambers of the Sanctuary of Thoth [pp. 33-34]
		The Relationship of Amūn to Zeus and His Connexion with Meteorites [pp. 35-38]
		Some Wooden Figures of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties in the British Museum. Part II [pp. 39-40]
		Cosmetics, Perfumes and Incense in Ancient Egypt [pp. 41-53]
		The Tomb of Aaḥmose, Supervisor of the Mysteries in the House of the Morning [pp. 54-62]
		Notes on Certain Passages in Various Middle Egyptian Texts [pp. 63-72]
		A Bronze Statue of a Cake-Carrier [pp. 73-74]
		Egypt and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age [pp. 75-92]
		Bibliography (1927): Ancient Egypt [pp. 93-119]
		Bibliography: Graeco-Roman Egypt A. Papyri (1928-1929) [pp. 120-140]
		Notes and News [pp. 141-146]
			Review: untitled [pp. 147-155]
			Review: untitled [pp. 155-157]
			Review: untitled [pp. 157-160]
			Review: untitled [p. 160]
			Review: untitled [p. 161]
			Review: untitled [pp. 161-162]
			Review: untitled [pp. 162-163]
			Review: untitled [pp. 163-164]
			Review: untitled [p. 164]
			Review: untitled [p. 165]
			Review: untitled [p. 165]
			Review: untitled [pp. 165-166]
		Back Matter
Document Text Contents
Page 1

Egypt Exploration Society

Egypt Exploration Society .

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Page 2




Cosmetics are as old as vanity. In Egypt their use can be traced back to almost the
earliest period of which burials have been found, and it continues to the present day.

The ancient Egyptian cosmetics included eye-paints, face-paints, and oils and solid
fats (ointments), all of which are here considered.

The two commonest eye-paints were malachite (a green ore of copper) and galena

(a dark grey ore of lead), the former being the earlier of the two, but being ultimately
largely replaced by the latter, which became the principal eye-paint of the country.
Both malachite and galena are found in the graves in several conditions, namely, as
fragments of the raw material, as stains on palettes and stones on which this was ground
when required for use and in the prepared state (kohl), either as a compact mass of the
finely ground material made into a paste (now dry) or more frequently as a powder.
Malachite is known from the Badarian and earliest predynastic period12,3 until at least
the Nineteenth Dynasty4, while galena does not appear before late predynastic times3'5
and continues until the Coptic period4.

The crude form of both malachite and galena was often placed in the graves in
small linen or leather bags. The prepared form has been found contained in shells6, in
segments of hollow reeds, wrapped in the leaves of plants and in small vases, sometimes

When kohl is found as a mass, as distinct from a powder, this has often manifestly
shrunk7,8 and has also sometimes acquired markings from the interior of the receptacle7,
from which it is evident that such preparations were originally -in the condition of a
paste, which has dried. With what the fine powder was mixed to form the paste has
not been determined, though, since fatty matter is absent7, the use either of water or
gum and water seems probable.

The composition of the ancient Egyptian kohl has been described by several writers:
for example, by Wiedermann9 (from analyses by Fischer); by Florence and Loretlo (who
also quote Fischer's analyses and in addition give particulars of a few earlier ones and

1 G. Brunton, Qau and Badari, 1, 63.
2 G. Brunton and G. Caton-Thompson, The Badarian Civilisation, 31, 41, 85-87, 99, 102, 103, 109.
3 W. M. Flinders Petrie, Prehistoric Egypt, 43.
4 A. Wiedermann, Varieties of Ancient Kohl, in Jfedum, W. M. Flinders Petrie, 42, 43.
5 G. Brunton, op. cit., 13, 31, 63, 70.
6 Shells were also employed as receptacles for pigment other than eye-paint.
7 A. Wiedermann, op. cit., 42.
8 Particularly noticed in the case of dry pastes in shells. 9 A. Wiedermann, op. cit., 41-44.
10 A. Florence and B. Loret, Le collyre noir et le collyre vert, in Fouilles a Dachour, J. de Morgan,

1895, 153-164.
Journ. of Egypt. Arch. xvi. 6

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Egyptians also, and Elliot Smith describes the hair of the mummy of Honttimihou
(Eighteenth Dynasty) as being dyed a brilliant reddish colour, which he suggests was
done with henna1. Naville states that the finger nails of an Eleventh Dynasty mummy
he examined were tinted with henna2, and Maspero thought that the hands of
Ramesses II were stained "jaune-clair par les parfums" . Elliot Smith, however,
suggests that the latter were merely discoloured by the embalming material, which may
be the case also with the mummy to which Naville refers, as it almost certainly is with
the staining of the finger nails of the mummy of Yuaa in the Cairo Museum. Newberry
has identified twigs of henna from the Ptolemaic cemetery of Hawara4.

Besides the perfumes from plants already dealt with and in the absence of animal
perfumes (the principal being ambergris, civet and musk), for the use of which in ancient
Egypt there is no evidence, the only other likely odoriferous substances that remain for
consideration are the plant products, resins and gum-resins, for the use of which to
perfume oils and fats there is a certain amount of positive evidence, that may now be

The statement of Theophrastus that a certain Egyptian unguent contained myrrh
has already been quoted, as also that of Pliny that resin, turpentine resin, myrrh and
galbanum entered into the composition of the Mendesian unguent, and to these may be
added some slight evidence from the Egyptian records and from the tombs. Although
as a rule, there is little to suggest that any of the oils, fats and ointments, so frequently
mentioned in the records, were scented (there being usually either no description of the
material or merely a statement of the purpose for which it was employed), there are
several exceptions, namely one instance in which the "smell of unguents" is referred to5,
two others in which "sweet oil of gums"6 and two in which "ointment of gums"7
respectively are named and, since gums are not odoriferous, but since resins and gum-
resins are even to-day often wrongly termed gums, the names suggest a possibility that
the oil and ointment referred to may have been perfumed by means of fragrant resins
or gum-resins.

From the tombs the evidence leaves much to be desired, but definite facts are
gradually being accumulated. Fatty matter has often been found in graves, and this
frequently possesses a strong smell8'9'10, but probably in no instance is the smell the
original one, nor can it reasonably be called a perfume; in all the cases known to the
writer it has always been a secondary smell due to chemical changes that have taken
place in the fat, and it is often suggestive of rancid coconut oil"1 and in one instance of
valeric acid11. Very few examples of this fatty matter have been analysed, and there is
no definite proof that any of the specimens were cosmetics, though in one instance this
is very probable. Sometimes the fatty matter consists largely of mixed palmitic and

1 G. Elliot Smith, The Royal llummies, Cat. Gen. du Musee du Caire, 19.
2 E. Naville, The Eleventh Dynasty Temple at Deir-el-Bahari, I, 1907, 44.
3 G. Elliot Smith, op. cit., 60-1.
4 P. E. Newberry, On the Vegetable Remains discovered in the Cemetery of Hawara, in Hawara, Biahma

and Arsenoe, W. M. Flinders Petrie, 50.
5 A. Erman, op. cit., 156. 6 J. H. Breasted, op. cit., Iv, 497, 498.
7 J. H. Breasted, op. cit., iv, 476, 477.
8 W. M. Flinders Petrie, The Royal Tombs of the First Dynasty, I, 14.
9 G. A. Wainwright, Balabish, 14.
10 W. M. Flinders Petrie and J. E. Quibell, Naqada and Ballas, 27, 39, 40.
11 A. Lucas, in The Tomb of Tut-ankh-Amen, Howard Carter, II, Appendix, II, 176, 177.


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Page 8


stearic acids1'2'3, probably representing an original animal fat, while in other cases it
consists chiefly of stearic acid" 4, which suggests that it was at one time castor oil. Four
specimens examined have been mixed with solid material that has not been identifiedl 5,
but which in one instance was possibly a balsam3. According to Pliny6, however, the
Roman perfumers of his day (and possibly, therefore, the Egyptian perfumers also)
thought that gum or resin added to a cosmetic fixed the perfume, and it seems possible
that the solid matter referred to may have been not a fragrant resin or gum-resin added
to perfume the fat, but a non-odoriferous gum or resin used to fix a perfume obtained
from some other source. Five specimens of material, all very much alike, from different

compartments of a toilet box of unknown date examined by Gowland gave results from
which he concluded that the material consisted of beeswax mixed with an aromatic resin
and a small proportion of vegetable oil7.

Eight specimens of materials of unknown date, thought to be perfumes, examined
by Reutter, are stated to have consisted generally of a mixture of all or most of the

following-named substances, storax, incense, myrrh, turpentine resins, bitumen of Judea

perfumed with henna, aromatic vegetable material mixed with palm wine or the extract
of certain fruits (such as cassia or tamarind) and grape wine8. These analyses were made
on very small quantities of materials (from 0-498 gram to 2-695 grams), and the con-
clusions are much too definite for the chemical results obtained. Thus, that a very
minute residue of black material, suggestive of bitumen and containing sulphur, was
obtained from each specimen is not questioned, but the evidence is not sufficient to

prove that this was bitumen of Judea. Such a residue is not infrequent in the case of

organic substances of the nature of those examined, especially when they are several
thousands of years old. That bitumen was added to perfumes and in such very small

proportions as the black residue represented is not only not warranted by the evidence,
but is most improbable. The correctness, too, of the identification of so many different
substances in the one mixture, particularly when dealing with such small quantities as
were examined, needs confirmation.


Since the word incense (Latin incendere, to burn or kindle) has the same literal

meaning as the word perfume, which is the aroma given off with the smoke (per fumum)
of any odoriferous substance when burned, incense, therefore, should be included in any
description of ancient Egyptian perfumes.

1 A. Lucas, in The Tomb of Tut-ankh-Amen, Howard Carter, II, Appendix, II, 176, 177.
2 W. M. Flinders Petrie and J. E. Quibell, Naqada and Ballas, 39.
3 A. C. Chapman and H. J. Plenderleith, Examination of an Ancient Egyptian (Tut-ankh-Amen)

Cosmetic, in (a) Journ. Chem. Soc., cxxix (1926), 2614-2619; in (b) The Tomb of Tut-ankh-Ametn, Howard
Carter, I, Appendix, iv, 206-210.

4 J. E. Quibell, The Tomb of Yuaa and Thuiu, 75-77. Analysis by the writer.
6 These included the specimen examined by Chapman and Plenderleith and previously by the writer

together with three apparently somewhat similar specimens examined by the writer.
6 Op. cit., xin, 2.
7 W. Gowland, Proc. Bibl. Arch., xx (1898), 268-269.
8 L. Reutter, Analyses des parfums igyptiens in Annales du Service des Antiq. de l'egypte, xIII (1914),


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Page 13


near Wadi Halfa, which was examined by the writer and the results published some
years ago1. This was a fragrant, black resin containing 31 per cent. of mineral matter
and is believed to be ladanum.


Storax (Styrax) is a balsam obtained from the tree Liquidamber orientalis, belonging
to the natural order Hamamelidece, indigenous to Asia Minor. It is a turbid, viscid
greyish liquid having an odour like benzoin and belongs to the same class of bodies, the

distinguishing feature of which is that they contain either cinnamic or benzoic acid,
storax containing the former. At one time the name storax was applied to the solid
resin obtained from Styrax officinalis, which somewhat resembles benzoin. Reutter has
identified storax in Egyptian mummy material2 and in ancient Egyptian perfumes3, both
unfortunately undated.

Miscellaneous Incense Materials.

Specimens of various miscellaneous materials of ancient Egyptian origin submitted
as incense have been examined by the writer from time to time and may now be
described. One of these was Coptic incense of the same date and from the same place
as that already described when dealing with ladanum. This second specimen, however,
was very different; it was in irregular-shaped pieces of a dark reddish-brown colour,
translucent when freshly fractured, very resinous-looking and possessed a fragrant smell.
On analysis it proved to be a true resin, as distinguished from a gum-resin, and there-
fore could not be frankincense, myrrh, galbanum or storax, and its colour was not that
of ladanum; it was not identified1. A specimen of material found by Legrain at Karnak
was dull and opaque in appearance, and on analysis proved to be a true resin mixed
with 76 per cent. of limestone dust. Although described by the finder as incense, it iis
suggested that it was a cementing material similar to that discovered at Karnak a few
years later by Pillet and examined by the writer4.

That frankincense occurs in the Sudan has already been stated, but in addition there
are also other materials that might be employed as incense, though whether they have
been so used and to what extent they occur is unknown. The writer has examined two
of these, one Gafal resin stated to be obtained from Balsamodendron africanum and the
other the product of Gardenia Thunbergia. The Gafal resin was in the shape of irregular-
shaped masses, yellowish, light brown or dark brown in colour and generally translucent
and very resinous-looking. The Gardenia Thunbergia product was also in irregular lumps,
but very different in appearance from the Gafal resin; it varied in colour from a light
yellowish-brown to black and was entirely opaque. Both materials are fragrant gum-
resins and seem very suitable for incense purposes.

Resin of Unknown Significance from Egyptian Graves.

Resin is one of the commonest materials in ancient Egyptian graves of all periods,
and particularly in those of predynastic and early dynastic date, but the use of this
resin has never been explained. It is now suggested that it may have been for incense

1 A. Lucas, Preservative Materials used by the Ancient Egyptians in Embalming, Cairo, 1911, 31-32.
2 L. Reutter, De l'embaumement avant et apres Jesus-Christ, Paris, 1912, 49, 59.
3 L. Reutter, Analyses des parfums egyptiens, in Annales du Service, xIII (1914), 49-78.
4 M. Pillet, Annales du Service, xxiv (1924), 64-65.

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Page 14


purposes. That resin was employed in mummification, as varnish, as a cementing
material and for beads and other personal ornaments is well known, but the particular
resin now referred to is a marked feature in burials long before mummification was
practised and almost certainly, too, before resin was used for the other purposes
mentioned. It is of several kinds, generally of a dull brown colour on the outside, but
brighter and more resinous-looking in the interior; very friable and with a characteristic
faceted appearance when fractured, though occasionally reddish-brown or reddish-yellow
and translucent and then very like colophony in appearance. A considerable amount of
chemical work has already been done by the writer on these materials' and this is being
continued, but as yet their botanical source has not been identified. Some of the

specimens, however, are true resins and not gum-resins, which suggests coniferous trees
from Asia as their origin.


The various facts enumerated make it highly probable that ancient Egyptian incense
consisted, in part at least, of frankincense and myrrh obtained from Somaliland and
southern Arabia, as generally accepted, but that other materials, including galbanum
and storax from Asia and ladanum from Palestine or southern Europe were also

employed, though possibly not until a comparatively late period. It is suggested, too,
that the brown resin so common in Egyptian graves of all periods, but particularly in
those of predynastic and early dynastic date, may have been the original incense
material employed in Egypt, which continued in use as a cheap substitute for frank-
incense and myrrh, especially for burial purposes, even after more fragrant materials
were known. It is further suggested that this early resin was procured from Asia.

1 A. Lucas, Preservative Materials used by the Ancient Egyptians in Embalming, 20-49.

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