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Where can I buy this newly discovered perfume of the pharaohs

01:00 Mon 15th Apr 2002 |

A.I regret you can't - there are no plans to put it on sale. But I expect you'd like to hear a bit more about it < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Q.Oh yes.

A.An Egyptian perfume used by the pharaohs has been rediscovered by French scientists and re-created for the first time in 3,000 years. Experts from the cosmetic manufacturer L'Or�al combined their knowledge of oils found in 500 toiletry vessels looted by Napoleon's forces with pictures of recipes found on two walls in Egyptian temples.

Q.What do they show

A.The hieroglyphics, at Edfu temple on the Nile, give details of how plants and processes were combined to produce Kyphi, a solid ball of perfume. Other carvings at Philae temple, near Aswan, show the perfume being applied.

Q.A perfume ball How was that applied

A.This is one of the reasons, perhaps, that you're not going to be able to buy it over the counter of your local chemist's. The perfume was rolled together in a ball, then burned over charcoal. The aroma wasn't applied to the skin 4,000 years ago as it is now, but the pungent smoke soaked into the hair and skin.

Q.Hmm. Not too sure about this.

A.It's better than it sounds. It smells first of lemon grass and peppermint then juniper berries and cinnamon. Not like a bonfire at all.

The research took six years and director Patricia Pineau said: 'The Ancient Egyptians had a subtle and advanced understanding of the scientific process. Egyptian experts recognise the smells and say they believe it is close to perfection.'

Q.So how did the team discover all this

A.The study started with the analysis of microscopic samples taken from vessels looted by Napoleon during his invasion of 1798. The experts then focused on a recipe noted down by the Ancient Greek historian Plutarch in his book Travels from Isis to Osiris. It appeared to correspond with the hieroglyphics at Edfu.

Q.So this was purely a cosmetic

A.No. Sometimes the kyphi (Greek for perfume) wasn't burned, but put in the hair to protect it from the sun. A later recipe mixed it with alcohol and another version was used in the preparation of mummies.

Q.To stop them stinking

A.A bit more subtle than that. Lise Manniche, an Egyptologist at the University of Copenhagen, says perfume was an indispensable funerary gift because it was believed to promote sex after death.

Q.So if I can't buy this, can I make it

A.Yes. As it so happens, I have the recipe:

  • Grind up 270g of reed roots (Acorus calamus), lemongrass, pistachio nuts, cinnamon, mint and wood of the myrtle tree.
  • Grind, separately, 270g of juniper berries, Chaerophyllum (a green leafy herb) and Cyperus longus roots.
  • Mix the two powders together with a little grape wine. Leave for one day. Mix with 1.8kg of skinless, seedless grapes and 2.25kg of palm wine. Leave for five days.
  • Then bring 1.2kg of incense and 3kg of honey to the boil and reduce to 3.36kg. Mix with the other ingredients and leave for five days.
  • Add 1kg of ground myrrh. Mould into round balls about one centimetre in diameter. Put the perfume in a long pipe and burn.

Good luck!

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Steve Cunningham

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