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27 February 2005
Can Cyprus claim world's oldest perfumery?

Musky, with a woody tone and spicy hints of cinnamon - the perfect fragrance for a Bronze Age date. Italian archaeologists have discovered the world’s oldest perfumery and have identified the smells popular with the people of the time. The perfumery was found at a sprawling archaeological site on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean at Pyrgos-Mavroraki, 55 miles south-west of Cyprus's capital Nicosia.
     "This is 4,000 years old. Without a doubt, it is the oldest production site for perfume in the world," said Maria Rosario Belgiorno, the excavation team leader. The site was destroyed by an earthquake in antiquity but the calamity helped preserve the finds and it is now expected to unlock ancient secrets about the surprisingly advanced production methods. Fourteen different perfumes from ten essences were found at the Cyprus site. About a dozen have so far been reconstituted from the fragments of perfume bottles by Italian scientists. Among the aromas found were those of cinnamon, laurel, myrtle, anise and citrus bergamot, all indigenous plants growing in the region.
     The ancients required perfumes for more than smelling attractive. Aromatic resins were used in religious ceremonies and funeral rites, as well as for their medical properties. The ancient Egyptians were keen on aromatherapy. "The Cypriots probably learned from the Egyptians. We know there were very strong links between the two," Ms Belgiorno said. Perfumes have even been found in Egyptian predynastic graves. A royal tomb at Abydos dating back to about 3000 BCE contained jars with coniferous resin mixed with plant oil and animal fats. Even workmen were said to have received regular supplies of ointment and the first recorded strike in history occurred during the reign of Ramses III (1165 BCE), when supplies were interrupted to the tomb builders in the Valley of the Kings. So valued were perfumes that the Pharoahs had "very strong control" of its production, said Ms Belgiorno.
     The perfumery in Cyprus formed part of a site dating from 2000 BCE which included a copper smelting works, a winery and an olive press that provided the base ingredient for the fragrances. Fragments of enormous storage jars capable of holding 500 litres of olive oil were found. The scale of the works suggests perfume played an important role in the island’s trade at the time. Further research in the area will start in September.

Sources: Reuters (24 February 2005), The Scotsman (25 February 2005)

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