4,000 year-old Perfumes Found on Aphrodite's Fabled Island:
ITALIAN archaeologists have found the world's oldest perfumes on
The perfumes were scented with extracts of lavender, bay, rosemary, pine or coriander and kept in tiny translucent alabaster bottles.
The remaining traces found at Pyrgos, in the south of the island, are more than 4000 years old.
They were discovered inside what archaeologists believe was an 3995-square-metre perfume-making factory.
"We were astonished at how big the place was," the leader of the archaeological team, Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, said. "Perfumes must have been produced on an industrial scale."
At least 60 stills, mixing bowls, funnels and perfume bottles were perfectly preserved at the site, which had been blanketed in earth after a violent earthquake about 1850BC.
The abundance of perfumes fits well with
"The goddess' myth was strongly linked to the perfume she used to get what she wanted," the head of
The finds are now on display at the
Four of the perfumes have been re-created from residues found at the site.
An Italian foundation, which aims to re-create antique traditions, distilled them according to techniques described by Pliny the Elder, by grinding the herbs, adding them to oil and water, and burying them in a long-necked jug over hot embers for 12 hours.
"It smells good, but strong," museum visitor Alessia Affinata, 30, said. "I can smell the pine especially," said Giulia Occhi Villavecchia, 23.
Neither was sure they would actually wear them.
And from the head archeologist, Maria Rosaria Belgiorno from http://www.pyrgos-mavroraki.net:
M.R. Belgiorno "I Profumi di Afrodite" - Gangemi 2007 :
The most ancient prescriptions to make perfumes with olive oil come from
However, the use of scents in olive oil started in the
At Pyrgos, the eastern side of the olive pressroom hosted the perfumery. It was arranged in a large sector of floor where 14 pits plastered with calcarenite and talc have been carved.
Each hosted a jug for the maceration, but around the pits, hundreds of flint blades of different shapes and dimensions have been found mixed with more than 70 clay vases. The finding of two paraphernalia to still fragrance essences, was of special interest. Each of them was composed by four pieces: two jugs, one alembic head and one basin. All pottery was made in metallic ware to support high temperatures.
(Sounds to me like this may have been an essential oil distillery where plant oils were extracted through distillation and infusion for therapeutic purposes. The oils they used weren't typically perfume oils and they do have therapeutic properties. Cultures during this time used these oils as medicines. I'm guessing that these lovely vials were medicine bottles, not perfume bottles.)
According to the kind of scents produced and considering the pottery typology found in the perfumery there is evidence of three methods utilised at Pyrgos to extract aromatic essences: boiling, distillation and maceration in hot water and olive oil. The first procedure, water boiling, was for the extraction of resins and oil compounds from the barks, which, after the boiling, were squeezed in a cloth turned by two sticks. The second, distillation, was mainly used to extract essential oils from flowers; the third, maceration in water and olive oil (or almond oil), takes scents from roots, musk, leaves and vegetable parts.
A particular attention is devoted to the funnels found in the factory of scents, which are a real novelty in the Mediterranean repertoire. The objects are composed of a spherical bowl with handle and a long spout vertically positioned under the base. A similar funnel was found in the excavation of Alambra (Coleman, J.E., Barlow, J.A., Mogelonsky, M.K. and Scharr, K.W., 1996. Alambra. A Middle Bronze Age Settlement in Cyprus, Archaeological Investigations by Cornell University 1974-1985 (Sima) Jonsered)) in room 8 of building IV, associated to material similar to the Pyrgos perfume factory, including a possible alembic head.
Given the lack of contemporary comparisons, it is plausible that this kind of funnel is a Cypriot invention of the Early-Middle Bronze Age. A close examination of the form and its possible use suggest that funnels were related to the manufacture of perfumes, utilised not only to transfer the essence, but mostly to separate the essential oils during the distillation. The funnel is indispensable in the process of distillation, since after it you can remove the water through the spout preserving the essential oils inside the body of the funnel. The ﬂow of waste water is today controlled by a kind of valve, while in the past it was suﬃcient to put in the middle a cloth or some cotton in order to prevent the precious essential oil to be wasted.
Similar funnels have been found on Ein Ghedi oasi (
If, indeed, these funnels are a Cypriot invention, then it would follow that the distillery at Ein Ghedi is either not as old as the one in Cyprus, or is at least a contemporary. Since Pyrgos is located about 50 miles from my childhood home, I am very excited about this discovery - pretty much right in my old backyard!
(NB: The island of Cyprus is located in the eastern Mediterranean, south of Turkey, west of Syria/Lebanon, and north of Egypt. It is at the crossroad of ancient civilizations.)