Ancient Mesopotamian Fragrance Brought Back to Life After 3,200 Years
By: April Carson
After deciphering a 3,200-year-old clay tablet in Diyarbakır, Turkey, the formula for an extraordinary fragrance crafted by renowned female perfumer Tapputi from Mesopotamia was brought back to life. Tapputi is credited as the first recorded perfumer, crafting exquisite fragrances from exotic flowers, oils and other herbs.
During an excavation in Assur, Iraq - the capital of ancient Assyria city-state - archaeologists stumbled upon a cuneiform tablet that outlined Tapputi's formula for her signature perfume. The discovery detailed just how she crafted this luxurious scent from start to finish.
To bring the formula back to life, archaeologists worked with chemists and perfume experts to reconstruct what is believed to be the world's earliest recorded fragrance.
Etched on the tablet was Tapputi-Belatekallim, in which "Belatekallim" stands for a woman managing a house. Additionally, she is noted as producing incomparable Mesopotamian fragrances.
Located in Babylonian Mesopotamia, the area where the ancient tablets were found dates back to 1200 BC - otherwise known as the second millennium.
A comprehensive study of Tapputi's fragrance-making practices in ancient Mesopotamia was recently conducted by a team of Turkish researchers and the Scent Culture Association, with support from Turkey's Smell Academy.
The researchers painstakingly studied and analyzed Tapputi's ancient records, then recreated her legendary perfume in the same way she would have.
In addition to perfume experts, scientists from multiple disciplines have collaborated in a laboratory setting to recreate one of Tapputi's signature scents.
The scientists had a single objective: to initially understand and eventually replicate the perfumer's work with precision.
The team has made substantial progress in their efforts to recreate the fragrance, yet they still strive to decrypt Tapputi's ancient tablet and fully comprehend her work. Through this mission, Tapputi proudly earns her place as not only the first female chemist of Mesopotamia but also the very first recorded female perfume maker worldwide.
Inscriptions carved into recovered clay tablets unveiled that Tapputi made her ancient perfume with a unique concoction of flowers, oil, calamus, Cyperus, myrrh, horseradish. spices and balsam among other ingredients.
The unique scent of Tapputi’s fragrance has been recreated with modern-day ingredients, but it is still tried and tested to ensure that the ancient process and recipe are faithful recreations.
The incredible scholars who were knowledgeable enough in the language on the tablets are to be credited for their translation of her writings, making them accessible and intelligible.
In addition, Tapputi would blend her concoctions with water and other solvents before distilling them. The resulting liquid was then put through a process of filtration to create an exquisite Mesopotamian perfume recipe that both smelled pleasant and was more pure in its composition.
From the intricate conglomeration of Mesopotamian data, experts were eventually able to recreate one of her aroma formulas in its entirety.
Bihter Türkan Ergül, a renowned ancient fragrance expert and head of the Smell Academy and Scent Culture Association, divulged with excitement: “We unearthed remarkable insights in these tablets - on how she crafted her enchanting aromas as well as her distillation procedure.”
Per Ergül, each cuneiform tablet unearthed was an opportunity for them to take a leap through time and relive history in the modern lab. As they discovered new tablets, their excitement grew as did the potential of turning back time and recreating ancient smells.
The team was finally able to successfully recreate the aroma formula of “Ishtar,” which is believed to be over 3,200 years old. By using her exact instructions with modern tools and materials, they were able to recreate this scent that had been lost in history.
After careful analysis, Ergül and her team of researchers yielded twenty-seven pages detailing perfume from the tablets. Astonishingly, they uncovered that Tapputi would always formulate under a full moon while attaining harmony with the stars in the night sky as part of her process.
One of the mysteries unearthed during translating the tablet is Tapputi's ritualistic practice in perfumery production. As Ergül, president of the Fragrance Culture Association, remarked: “We are doing our part to preserve and honor ancient olfactory customs passed down through generations here."
Ergül proudly proclaimed that our land has a legacy of 8,000 years in the art of scent-making. Even though we have identified all components used for making Tapputi's fragrances, pushing beyond this point could prove difficult.
As Cenker Atila, a renowned archaeologist and associate professor from Sivas Cumhuriyet University, investigated Tapputi's work further, his team encountered two crucial issues.
"There are two main issues," he expressed. "The tablets were damaged and some critical pieces went missing." He continued, "We also don't have the exact equivalents of certain plants or containers used 3200 years ago. For instance, we've yet to identify what a 'hirsu' vessel is precisely."
It is reasonable to assume that the container in question was akin to a flowerpot, given its use in perfume distillation. Additionally, Atila reported an interesting conundrum: the inability of us not knowing certain flowers and spices used for fragrance production today.
Fortunately, the team was able to find a close parallel for each ingredient. For instance, Atila noted that "cassia is an old spice that has been used since ancient times to create fragrances". He explained further, "We have identified a very similar plant which we believe could be substituted in place of the original."
Ergül uncovered hundreds of tablets containing ancient Mesopotamian recipes for fragrances, however there is much work left to do before these scents can be replicated today. Translations must be completed in order to uncover the secrets within these excavated artifacts and unlock a new realm of perfumes.
Ergül further elucidated that Mesopotamia is renowned for its rich scent culture, which can be attributed to the region's abundant fertility. Such fertility was abundant even in ancient times, and many of the ingredients described in the tablets remain unidentified to this day. For example, some flowers may no longer exist or have significantly altered characteristics due to genetic changes over thousands of years. Additionally, the recipes are highly complex and require specific knowledge in order to be recreated.
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April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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