Ancient Egypt was very much a part of Africa's Neolithic period. Their word for luck was “sha” and “sha sha” meant bead. Egyptians used beads to cover almost every article of clothing and any uncovered part of the body. Quantities of beads were buried with the owner to ensure comfort in the afterlife. With reference to Neolithic Egypt, Lois Dubin wrote: No other civilization, however; manufactured such and enormous variety of beads in so many different materials. They were not only used for necklaces but were also attached to linen and papyrus backings to make belts, aprons, and sandals. Beadwork originated in Old Kingdom Egypt about 2200 BC.
The first examples of man-made glass date only to the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC when glass beads were first made in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The first ancient glass vessels were made in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia and Egypt. These were made by molding on a mud or sand core which was made in the shape of the desired vessel. Viscous glass was applied to this core. The surface of the vessel was then decorated with threads of colored glass and teased into decorative patterns. The piece was then rolled on a flat surface and a handle and a base were added. The colours used in this early period suggest that the makers were trying to imitate precious stones such as lapis-lazuli and turquoise. The manufacture of glass vessels began at approximately the same time in Egypt and in northern Mesopotamia but it appears that the core technique was invented in Mesopotamia and introduced into Egypt later. The high-point of ancient Egyptian glass came in the El Amarna period (first half of the 14th century BC). The beautiful glass eye shown above, made of glass and gypsum is among the oldest glass objects in the world.
I have previously written on Roman perfume bottles and the importance of glass in the Roman Empire. Perfume was also central to ancient Greek life. It was so popular that the politician Solon temporarily banned the use of it to prevent an economic crisis. It was at the center of hospitality, wealth, status, daily life and even philosophy. It was seen as erotic, mystical and spiritual. It was linked to beauty which was inextricably linked with divinity. The origins of perfume and perfumery are interwoven with Greek mythology. In Homeric tradition, the Olympian gods taught perfumery to people. The color and scent of the rose is attributed to events surrounding Venus and Cupid. Lekuthos were used for liquid perfume and were slim elegant glass bottles. Aryballes were used for oils and unguents. Alabastron perfume bottles were highly prized, mainly among women and it was common for the craftsmen to brand the bottles to mark their craftsmanship, making them even more collectable. Even so, terracotta vessels, metal or alabaster were the most common materials for scented oil. The exquisite perfume vessel shown above is a exaleiptron (an older name was plemochoa) used for storing large amounts of perfume, possibly for washing and anointing the feet of visitors. The exaleiptron has religious significance in that it was used during the Eleusinian Mysteries when, on the last day they filled two plemochoai and set them up one to the east, one to the west, and then overturned them, saying mystic words as they did so. They were also used as grave goods.
Perfumes have been known to exist in some of the earliest human civilizations, either through ancient texts or from archaeological digs. The word perfume used today derives from the Latin “per fumum”, meaning “through smoke”, probably referring to frankincense and myrrh. Perfumery, or the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt and was further refined by the Romans and Persians. Scent was also an important factor of beauty. Women who smelled good were presumed to be healthy. Due to the stench of many of the ingredients used in cosmetics at the time, women often drenched themselves in copious amounts of perfume. Perfumes were very popular in Ancient Rome. In fact, they were so heavily used that Cicero claimed that, “The right scent for a woman is none at all.” They came in liquid, solid and sticky forms and were often created in a ground process with flowers or herbs and oil. Deodorants made from alum, iris and rose petals were common. The glass perfume container to the right above was created with glass rods of different colors and then swirled to create this pattern. This would have been a very expensive flask, for an upperclass woman and for me, one of the stars of this post.