Friday Archaeology Blogging
Short, smelly edition.
Aphrodite perfumes sniffed out
22nd March 2007, 8:45 WST
The world’s oldest perfumes have been found on Cyprus by a team of archaeologists.
The perfumes were scented with extracts of lavender, bay, rosemary, pine or coriander and kept in tiny, translucent alabaster bottles. The remaining traces found in Pyrgos, in the south of the island, are more than 4000 years old.
As the article goes on to point out, it's appropriate that the material was found on Cyprus, given that that island is the traditional site of the birth of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love.
The birth of Aphrodite
Anyway, the interesting thing here is that not only were Bronze Age Cypriots making perfumes, they were apparently doing so in bulk; the size of the recently discovered "perfume factory" is about 43,000 square feet. This is not terribly surprising - perfume in the ancient world was as much a luxury item as it is now.
An elaborate bronze-age perfume bottle
Perfume maintained its popularity through the age of Classical Greece; the infamous courtesan Lais of Corinth (10,000 drachmas per "appointment", apparently!), is said to have developed her own perfume from orange blossoms and oyster shells in the 4th century B.C., a perfume which has never been successfully duplicated. The Romans, too, were very into perfumes; some figures from the time of Augustus indicate that roughly 3,000 tons of frankincense was used in Rome per year.
Ancient Roman perfume bottles