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Archaeologist Reveals Importance of Incense in Ancient Egypt


Tue 23 Jul 2019 | 05:05 PM
Ali Abu Dashish

Incense played a prominent role in the ancient Egyptian religion, magic and medicine. The process of burning incense was one of the daily rituals of ancient Egyptian worship inside the corridors of the temples. The fossils revealed some resin materials used for their smart smells in the tombs of Badari and Naqada of the pre-family era.

Prof. Dr. Magda Abduallah. Professor of Egyptology and ancient near east studies and head of the History department at the faculty of Arts Kafr el sheikh University, says that the oldest written sign about the importation of incense was recorded by Palermo stone during the reign of Sahure, the second ruler of the Fifth Dynasty.

There were many types of incense used by the ancient Egyptians, including: Alkandr, Almr, Al Qenah, Aladn, and Alastraq, in addition to other materials such as Cassia and Cinnamon, as well as what is mentioned in the ancient Egyptian texts of many other materials, but we do not yet know how they were manufacturing them.

The ancient Egyptians imported incense from various areas, the most important of which was Punt, which was a source of Antio since early ages. They also imported it from other areas such as Nubia, Maga, Levant, and Mesopotamia. There are some texts that refer to many attempts to plant incense in Egypt, especially in the courtyards of the temples and other places.

The ancient Egyptians also used incense in many aspects of their daily lives, in medical prescriptions, personal grooming, and perfuming houses, and clothes, and magic, in order to protect them from evil spirits. they also considered incense one of the most important antiseptics in the rituals of the Egyptian religion, the use of incense was of major importance in the daily service of the temple gods, it was used in almost every ritual taking place inside Egyptian temples. in addition, it was used in religious ceremonies. Thanks to its importance, the Egyptian temples included laboratories for manufacturing perfumes that were burned inside the temples.

As for the use of incense in the funerary rituals, it was presented to the deceased in a list of offerings since the early ages, as a perfume or as a funeral offering, and within the mummification of mummies. The incense also was used in the rituals performed for the deceased from the moment of his death until his burial. The ancient Egyptians believed that it has a miraculous power that helps the deceased to continue life in the other world.

The Egyptian texts indicated that the ancient Egyptians named the censers many names since the Old Kingdom of Egypt. then the names of the censers varied according to its shapes. KAp was the name of cup-shaped censers with a cover. stAt was a rare name for the cup-shaped censers as well.

The arm- shaped censer in the Middle Kingdom was named a n sntr and in one case the material used in manufacturing it was identified as a m Ht m aS. This name emerged in the Greek and Roman times in the form of a n Hr. The well-known name of the arm-shaped censer throughout the Middle and Modern Kingdoms, and Late Period of ancient Egypt was sHtpy.

As for the name given to the Pottery bowl shaped censer were Ai or its derivatives awt, a as well as aabw, ab, Aaa bw, aab, iab. In this regard, we believe that it may have been used as a bushel for incense or for nectar, as some believed. In addition, it was sometimes used as a private censer when it was photographed with a flame rising or accompanied by a cover, or placed on the front of the arm used in it and the flame rises from it while the incense grains burning inside.

The shapes of censers varied. Each era had one of the most common patterns, and the censers emerged in pre-dynastic period, as a cup-shaped censer was found in Naqada, in addition to finding a large number of limestone censers in Maadi.

Censers used during the historical era can be classified within five types:

The first type: cup-shaped censers

This type of censers was found in the tombs of the Fourth Dynasty, presented to the deceased himself, or to his statue, or accompanied to rituals performed for him. This type was found in Abydos, and is sometimes accompanied by spoons of different ends, either pointed or circular.

We believe that this type of censers, whether with cover or not, had almost disappeared by the end of the Old Kingdom of Egypt, and only emerged in rare cases.

The second type: censers with bases

One of the oldest samples of this type is a censer found in Abydos dating back to the ancient era. This kind of censers was depicted on one of the fourth dynasty paintings , on the walls of the tombs and on the monuments of the Middle Kingdom. This type of censers was used during the New Kingdom of Egypt and Late Period of ancient Egypt.

The third type: arm-shaped censers

This type of censers emerged in the Middle Kingdom. it was topped by a box to store the incense grains, and a dish to burn incense.

Sometimes these censers were manufactured with two or three arms. During Late Period of ancient Egypt, they were manufactured with four arms but the ancient Egyptians were also using the one arm-shaped censer. We have a large collection of them exhibited in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, and in other international museums.

The fourth type: Pottery bowl shaped censers

They were used in the lists of offerings since Protodynastic Period. they were also used during Old Kingdom of Egypt. In the Middle Kingdom era, they were depicted with covers on coffins. They were also used during New Kingdom of Egypt, and Late Period of ancient Egypt.

The fifth type: Various forms of censers

Through studying the types of censers, we found monuments that were used as censers, such as Middle Eastern dishes, which have a bowl in the middle, as well as the bird-shaped dishes found in Deir el-Medina. We believe that these types were used in lighting.

Contributed by: Basant Ahmed