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What kind of incense was used by the Sumerians?


Today, there are many different kinds of aromatic substances used for incense. What kind of incense was used by the ancient Sumerians?


Sumerian word for incense is na-IZI (qutrēnu = incense) is to be read na-de3.

According to the book Kitchen Witchery: A Compendium of Oils, Unguents, Incense, Tinctures. By Marilyn F. Daniel (Pg- #53) and enenuru.proboards, it's consists of:

3 parts Cedar 2 parts Juniper 2 parts Cypress 2 parts Tamarisk

This incense was burned during magical rites, or when attuning with deities such as Inanna, Enlil, Marduk, or Tiamat.

For Shamash, sun god, incense offerings consisted of pure cedar (resin or shavings).

According to ordosacerdotalvstempli, Incense burner and with Charcoal, Frankincense was used as Base and Jasmine Perfume was added.


In the book "Religion in Ancient Mesopotamia" by Jean Bottero on Pgs. 149-150 it states this about temple offerings:

Once the priestesses of Anu in Uruk are seated at the door of the Sanctuary, the officiant will mix wine and perfumed oil to make a libation to Anu, Antu, and all the gods of their entourage; and he will rub the mixture into the frame and panel of the aforementioned door. After which for a Fumugation he will garnish the golden incense burners

In the book "The Treasures of Darkness": A History of Mesopotamian Religion by Thorkild Jacobsen it is thus stated on Pg. 16:

The Temple of Nusku in Nippur was a "Temple laden with great awesome aura and angry nimbus"

Nimbus here follows the pattern of incense fumigations as offerings. it is reasonable to ascertain that the use of Incense was in the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian times utilized as offerings for the gods in whose temple the incense was being offered. According to the seven major gods with their entourages the names were usually correspondant with what we now term as Planets, Nanna the Moon, Samas or Utu the Sun, (D)Marduk' Jupiter etc. So various Celestial bodies represented as dingir- gods by the Urigallu Priests were attributed particualr perfumes (fumigatons) that corresponded and characterized the legends or myths, as well as utilized trees, bushes, shrubs, and plants and their resins extracted from them for their attributions to regions, seasons, and celestial seasons as well.


History of Chamomile

Chamomile history begins in ancient Egypt, where it was first mentioned as a cure for fever, often called the "ague". The crushed flowers were also rubbed on the skin as a cosmetic. The Egyptians used its essence as the main ingredient in embalming oil for preserving deceased pharaohs.

The word "chamomile" comes from ancient Greece, Chamomaela, and means "ground apple". Pliny the Elder mentions the similarity of the smell of the chamomile flower to the apple blossom, and this may be why the ancients used the term. The Romans used chamomile to flavor drinks and in incense, as well as a medicinal herb.

In Spain the flower is called "manzanilla" (also meaning "little apple"). It has long been used to flavor a light sherry called by the same name. The Norsemen put it in a kind of shampoo. It was thought to add luster to the braided locks.

In Medieval times the petals were strewn about at gatherings to create pleasant odors. Chamomile was used to flavor beer before hops were put to that use. Monks discovered that one in every 10,000 or so chamomile plants (Anthemis nobilis) have double-headed flowers. These plants had a milder flavor, although the seeds were sterile, they were cultivated by cloning for use in tisanes and as a medicinal herb. 1

What is today known as Roman Chamomile was not actually cultivated by the Romans but was discovered by an English Botanist in the Coliseum growing wild. He brought it back to England where it is one of the primary forms of chamomile now cultivated. Chamomile is not native to the Americas, but was brought over and planted by colonists. Eventually, the seeds made it into the wild. It can now be found in yard and field, as well as in the garden.


What kind of incense was used by the Sumerians? - History

The Golden Altar of Incense (Ex 30:1-10)

The Golden Altar of Incense was 2 cubits tall.
It was 1 cubit square with a crown of gold
around the top and it had 4 golden horns

It was the Golden Altar of Incense which was straight ahead, before the veil, this third piece of furniture in the Holy Place on which the holy incense was burned. Made from acacia wood overlaid with pure gold it stood higher than any other article of furniture in the holy place, 2 cubits (3 feet) tall. It was one cubit square and it had around the top a crown of gold. It had four golden horns just as the bronze altar in the courtyard. Lower down on each side there were golden rings to insert the poles for carrying.

Exod 30:1-10 "You shall make an altar to burn incense on you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length and a cubit its width-- it shall be square-- and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay its top, its sides all around, and its horns with pure gold and you shall make for it a molding of gold all around. Two gold rings you shall make for it, under the molding on both its sides. You shall place them on its two sides, and they will be holders for the poles with which to bear it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold. And you shall put it before the veil that is before the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with you. Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer strange incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering nor shall you pour a drink offering on it. And Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonement once a year he shall make atonement upon it throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD."

- It had 4 horns of gold, one with it, a horn on each corner. (4-camps, e.Judah, s.Ruben, w.Ephraim, n.Dan, all Gods people)

The golden altar was used for burning incense, which twice every day was offered by the priest after he had tended the wick and oil on the holy lamps. Its horns were also sprinkled with the blood of the sin offering.

The incense was a mixture of three rich and rare spices, which cannot be identified today. These were blended with frankincense and beaten to a fine powder and then salt was added. It was totally forbidden for this formula to be used by any private individual. It had to be used only in the worship of God in the holy place.

Ex 30:34-38 And the LORD said to Moses: "Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense with these sweet spices there shall be equal amounts of each. You shall make of these an incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, salted, pure, and holy. And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put some of it before the Testimony in the tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. But as for the incense which you shall make, you shall not make any for yourselves, according to its composition. It shall be to you holy for the LORD. Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people."

The incense was burnt on pieces of hot coal, which the priest removed in a censer or fire pan from the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. A censer apparently was a shallow bowl or pan with a handle on it. It could be also be used for removing the ashes from the altar or gathering up the burnt parts of the wick from the lampstand.

The golden altar was used for burning incense

Poured out on burning coals the incense produced a delightful aroma in the Holy Place. It was the offering of the person whose sins had been forgiven by blood and who then went on to express the fragrance of love and worship, which was most pleasing to God.

The Golden Altar speaks to us of the worship of Jesus Christ and God's people through him as our high priest and mediator. It was only on the basis of His one sacrifice on the altar of the cross that worship is made possible. The coals, which lit the incense, was carried from the altar of sacrifice to the altar of incense.

Although the common priest would burn these holy spices on the altar over 700 times in a year he knew that no priest other than the High Priest could go beyond that point, and only on the Day of Atonement.

Lev 16:12 "Then Aaron shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from the altar before the LORD, with his hands full of sweet incense beaten fine, and bring it inside the veil.

- The sweet incense was to be kept burning at all times.

- It was before the veil, and the throne of God (Jesus for us)

Num 4:11 "Over the golden altar they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of badger skins and they shall insert its poles.

Example of Moses' intercession:

Num 16:41-50 On the next day all the congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron, saying, "You have killed the people of the LORD." Now it happened, when the congregation had gathered against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tabernacle of meeting and suddenly the cloud covered it, and the glory of the LORD appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came before the tabernacle of meeting. And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, "Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment." And they fell on their faces. So Moses said to Aaron, "Take a censer and put fire in it from the altar, put incense on it, and take it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them for wrath has gone out from the LORD. The plague has begun." Then Aaron took it as Moses commanded, and ran into the midst of the assembly and already the plague had begun among the people. So he put in the incense and made atonement for the people. And he stood between the dead and the living so the plague was stopped. Now those who died in the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred, besides those who died in the Korah incident. So Aaron returned to Moses at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, for the plague had stopped.

A Type of Christ

The golden altar of incense tells us of the ministry of Jesus as our intercessor whose prayers never stop ascending to God on our behalf. Jesus said to Peter, "I have prayed for you." The four horns speak of Christ's ministry extending to the four corners of the earth. He will always pray for His own no matter where they are. He can intercede on our behalf because of the atoning work on the cross of Calvary. The incense was fueled by the fire from the altar. It is not just anyone praying for us but the King Himself as represented by the crown of gold. He knows our weaknesses and our failings and He is praying for us always.

Ps 141:2 Let my prayer be set before You as incense, the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Jn 17:9-10 "I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them.

Luke 22:31-32 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

John 17:15 "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

Heb 7:25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

1 Jn 2:1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Lk 22:31-32 And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."

Rom 8:26-27 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Ps 121:4 Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

Heb 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Rom 8:34 It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

Acts 6:4 "but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

Heb 13:15 Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

Lk 1:8-10 So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense.

Rev 5:8 Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Rev 8:3-4 Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. And he was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel's hand.

The golden altar of incense tells us of the ministry of Jesus as our intercessor whose prayers never stop ascending to God for us.

"And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among (in) them" - Exodus 25:8

The Purpose and Heart of the Law - A Devotional Message

The Tabernacle of Ancient Israel was a sanctuary which was given in a vision to Moses as a pattern and constructed by the children of Israel. God's promise was that He would dwell within the Holy of Holies above the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

Why Study the Tabernacle?

A) 50 Chapters Mention The Tabernacle

Because at least 50 chapters (13-Ex, 18-Lev, 13-Num, 2-Deut, 4-Heb) in the Bible tell of the construction, the ritual, the priesthood, the carrying of the tabernacle, and the meaning of it all. Also many other places in Scripture speak in figurative language concerning the tabernacle. In many Bible studies this subject is overlooked and considered insignificant.

B) The Tearing of the Veil

God Himself thought so much of the importance of the type, as shown by the tearing of the veil:

Matt 27:50-51 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split,

If we don't understand the meaning in Scripture of the holy of holies and the veil we miss out on extremely significant information concerning exactly what Christ's death meant to sinful mankind.

C) The Tabernacle is a Type of Christ:

Remember what the Word says, "all Scripture is given by inspiration (God-breathed) of God. " When we look at the Bible we must remember that it is completely God-breathed. When we look at each Word we must remember that every Word is specifically God-breathed. That was the view of Christ when it came to the Scriptures, that was the view of the apostles, and that must be our view. This is the very Word of God. It doesn't just contain the Word of God, or just point to religious experience, this is the Word of God.

Is it any wonder then that each and every detail and Word about the tabernacle has spiritual significance? As we look to the tabernacle structure itself and its unique pieces of redemptive furniture there is great symbolism and typology found in them. Remember, everything was a finger pointing to the Messiah. The tabernacle, as a type, designed specifically and in detail by God, would point to the character and aspects of the ministry of Christ. The more we become familiar with the tabernacle the more we become familiar with Christ and all that He means to us. What a great reason to become familiar with the Scriptures concerning the tabernacle.

Heb 10:20 by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh,

Col 2:17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Jn 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

D) It is a Representation of the True Tabernacle in Heaven:

The Lord wants us to be aware of His nature and character. Even the angels don't fully understand the nature and character of God but they learn from watching His dealings with His church (Eph 3). Things are really happening in the heavenly dimension and the Lord wants to reveal to us what took place in heaven after the resurrection of Christ. There is a real tabernacle in the heavenlies and Christ really appeared before the throne of heaven as the Lamb of God (Rev 5). There is no doubt that some of these things are a mystery but the more we draw close to God and His Word the more He draws close to us.

Heb 9:11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.

E) The Presence Within the Holy of Holies Dwells Within the Believer in Jesus:

Jesus said I am the temple (Mishkan) of God. When the glory (Heb. Sh'chinah) would come down like a tornado or funnel right through the roof of the holy of holies and the Presence would manifest on the mercy seat between the cherubim after the blood was sprinkled, that was the mishkan. That Presence was what Jesus said dwelt within Him. And in fact Paul said about the church, "Know ye not that you are the temple (Mishkan) of God?" We, as the body of Christ, have the same Presence dwelling within us. God doesn't dwell in buildings now but within His people.

1 Cor 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?

F) Its teaching covers in type almost all of New Testament truth.

The study of the tabernacle is so rich in meaning to the Christian and so pregnant with Messianic significance that we can spend a lifetime in the study of it and only begin to understand the riches and the depth of truth that lies within the study of the tabernacle.

Rom 15:4 "Whatever things that were written before were written for our learning."

G) Studying the Tabernacle will absolutely strengthen our faith in the Bible.

Be assured that anyone who has delved into the wonderful details of the tabernacle will confess that the Bible is more than just a book. No man could have thought of this. The Bible is the Word of God.

"all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. "


The Invention of the Clock

It was the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, as early as about 2000 BC, who first felt the need to track time using a real device. Before this, people used astronomy their knowledge of the planets and stars, to figure out the approximate time. It was them who created the sexagesimal system, or the 60-second, 60-minute system, by way of shadow clocks using a large obelisk. We will learn more about shadow clocks as well.

There are several devices we can use to tell time, such as hourglasses, sundials, candle clocks, water clocks, shadow clocks, incense clocks, and these all came before the invention of the mechanical clock that is used in today’s world. Sundials and shadow clocks require sunlight, which helps tell the time according to the shadows created by the sun. Water clocks were pretty much water reservoirs with a small hole on the bottom, and as the water drained by the hour, it was marked on the reservoir. Candle clocks follow a similar concept, where markings are made next to the candle to denote as time passes by.

All of these clocks had their limitations, though. Hourglasses only ran for an hour, then you have to flip it again shadow clocks and sundials only worked in the daytime water clocks were less reliable because of differing levels of water pressure, temperature, etc. What these limitations did is what they often do — paved the way for a more durable and more easily usable clock. Yes, this is the mechanical clock that we use today.

The earliest form of a mechanical clock came nearly 2000 years later, in 3rd Century BCE — the water-powered one in Greece, which used water to power rotations that told the time. The next versions of this came in 10th Century China and 11th Century Iran, using mercury. Europe is where a true mechanical clock was created for the first time in the 14th Century. It used a balance wheel to measure the time appropriately and was a rather bulky device that required quite a lot of space to function.

The word clock comes from the French word for bell, which is “cloche.” It is helpful to know this when looking for a reference as to why the first-ever mechanical clocks were built and worked in bell towers. It was because there was space in these towers to fit the large mechanics of clocks.

The pendulum is another important invention that is closely linked with the clock. It is believed that the pendulum is the device that helps keep the accuracy of the clock. This is the reason why you see pendulums hanging below clocks very often. The pendulum clock was invented in the year 1656 by Dutch horologist, Christiaan Huygens. The precursor to this invention was Galileo’s comment sometime in the 1500s that pendulums could be used in order to make timekeeping more accurate.

The revolutionary invention of the pendulum clock paved the way for many forms of the mechanical clock to enter the world. While the initial mechanical clock was large and heavy, clocks of smaller sizes entered the world. The pocket watch was one of these, which made its way into the world as a result of people wanting portable clocks.

Later versions of the clock include the quartz oscillator, whose technology was used to create wristwatches. Atomic clocks came next, which used atomic vibrations to coordinate time. These proved to be the most accurate of all others and were thus used to calibrate them. What came next in the world of timekeeping were digital watches and clocks, and all sorts of clocks with many different variations. Isn’t our creativity and curiosity that makes us wonder about all of these things?

Curiosity is the guiding factor of all world-changing inventions. Click here to take the Curiosity Test to find out your Curiosity Type.


Composition of the Holy Incense

Biblical and Judaic Usage

The recipe for making the holy incense, given in Exodus 30:34-38, names four components. The same quantity of each was to be taken and, mixed with salt, [note 1] made into a confection. Ε] These were: stacte, onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense (the resin of the olibanum-tree, being one of the various species of Boswellia indigenous to Arabia Felix).

In later tradition [note 2] seven others spices were added to these, namely: myrrh, cassia, nard, saffron, kostus, cinnamon, and aromatic-bark. Ε]

Josephus speaks of thirteen ingredients, agreeing with the fact that in other sources the following two herbs are mentioned: Ε] Jordan amber, and a secret unknown ingredient - known in Hebrew as ma'aleh ashan, literally "that which causes smoke to rise" - which has a quality which enabled the smoke to rise up to heaven in a straight column. [note 3]

Modern Usage

Normally, the resin of the Boswellia sacra plant (frankincense) is used as a base for incense manufacturing however, resin from fir trees has also been used. The resin is often infused with a floral oil, producing a fragrant scent when burned.

In the Athonite tradition, incense is often sprinkled liberally with clay dust to prevent granules from clumping.


What was the significance of the altar of incense?

The altar of incense is first mentioned in Exodus chapter 30 as one of the items inside the Holy Place of the tabernacle. The top of the altar was square&mdashone cubit per side&mdashand the whole altar was two cubits high. A cubit was about twenty inches, or just under two feet. The altar of incense was made of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. It had four “horns,” one at each corner, similar to the altar of sacrifice in the courtyard (Exodus 30:2 cf. 27:2). Rings of gold were built into the altar so that it could be carried with acacia wood poles that were slipped through the rings. The altar of incense was placed before the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. On the other side of the veil was the Ark of the Testimony, where the presence of God was (Exodus 25:22).

Aaron was instructed to burn incense on the altar each morning and at twilight, every day, as a regular offering to the Lord (Exodus 30:7&ndash8). God gave the recipe for making the incense and stipulated that no other incense ever be burned on the altar (verses 34&ndash38). The fire used to burn the incense was always taken from the altar of burnt offering outside the sanctuary (Leviticus 16:12). Never was the altar of incense to be used for a burnt offering, a grain offering, or a drink offering (Exodus 30:9). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to put blood on the horns of the altar of incense to cleanse it. The altar of incense was called “most holy to the Lord” (verse 10).

Of course, God’s primary desire for His people is that they be holy. Simply going through the rituals required by the Law&mdashincluding the burning of incense on the altar of incense&mdashwas not enough to make the Israelites right with God. The Lord wanted their hearts and lives to be right, not just their formalities. During Isaiah’s time, the people were disobedient to God, yet they still maintained the temple rites, and that’s why God said through the prophet, “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me” (Isaiah 1:13). More important than burning the proper incense at the proper time with the proper fire with the proper implements was having a proper heart before God.

In Scripture, incense is often associated with prayer. David prayed, “May my prayer be set before you like incense” (Psalm 141:2). In his vision of heaven, John saw that the elders around the throne “were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” (Revelation 5:8 cf. 8:3). As Zechariah the priest was offering incense in the temple in Luke 1:10, “all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.”

The altar of incense, then, can be seen as a symbol of the prayers of God’s people. Our prayers ascend to God as the smoke of the incense ascended in the sanctuary. As the incense was burned with fire from the altar of burnt offering, our prayers must be kindled with heaven’s grace. The fact that the incense was always burning means that we should always pray (Luke 18:1 1 Thessalonians 5:17). The altar of incense was holy to the Lord and was atoned for with the blood of the sacrifice it is the blood of Christ applied to our hearts that makes our prayers acceptable. Our prayers are holy because of Jesus’ sacrifice, and therefore they are pleasing to God.

The altar of incense can also be seen as a picture of the intercession of Christ. Just as the altar of sacrifice in the courtyard was a type of Christ’s death on our behalf, the altar of incense in the Holy Place was a type of Christ’s mediation on our behalf&mdashChrist’s work on earth and in heaven. The altar of incense was situated before the mercy-seat of the Ark&mdasha picture of our Advocate’s standing in the presence of the Father (Hebrews 7:25 9:24). The incense was to be burning continually on the altar of incense, which shows the perpetual nature of Christ’s mediation. Christ’s intercession on our behalf is a sweet-smelling savor to God.

It is beautiful to know that God considers the prayers of believers to be like a sweet smell of incense. Because of Christ, we can now enter God’s holy presence by faith, with full assurance (Mark 15:38 Hebrews 4:16). We offer our prayers upon the altar, trusting in Jesus, our eternal, perfect, and faithful High Priest (Hebrews 10:19&ndash23).


What kind of incense was used by the Sumerians? - History


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The Sumerians were the first Mesopotamian civilization. They lived in independent walled city-states. Uruk, the first and one of the largest cities in Mesopotamia, had a six miles long wall with defense towers located at 30-35 foot intervals. Although there was not much stone or wood in the area, Sumerians learned to build with clay bricks made from the mud and this was the primary building material. Uruk was the city of the legendary hero Gilgamesh who appears in the world's oldest known book, the Epic of Gilgamesh .

There were commoners, nobles and slaves. 90% of the population were involved in farming. Wealthy landowners used slaves as did the temples who needed workers for public projects, to weave cloth and grind grain.

The Sumerians traded by land with the eastern Mediterranean and by sea as far as India. The invention of the wheel, 3000 years ago, improved transportation by land. The Sumerians were well known for their metalwork, a craft at which they excelled.

The largest city was Ur. Its patron deity was the moon god Nanna whose temple topped the largest known ziggurat (70 feet high). Excavations there revealed the Royal Tombs of Ur, containing beautiful and valuable artifacts

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Sumerian Firsts

The Sumerians built the first cities, established the first monarchies and bureaucracies. The city was ruled by the gods through the priest king who exercised divine authority. Under the king were priests who surveyed land, assigned fields, ran the complex irrigation system, and distributed the harvest. A bureaucracy was established to administer the growing complex society.

They invented writing, first in pictographs and then developing into cuneiform. and used it to keep track of trade and to create the world's first known literature. The world's oldest book is The Epic of Gilgamesh, a collection of stories about a Sumerian hero.

They invented the wheel which facilitated the movement of goods and trade. They invented mathematics, developing a system of numbers based on a unit of 60. We still use their development of time measurement, 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour and the division of a circle into 360 degrees. This also was developed to facilitate trade.

The priests made observations of the heavens and develped a calendar based on these observations - 12 lunar months with a leap year every 3 years to catch up to the solar year). These observations were the foundation of astronomy.

The Sumerians invented irrigation, which made it possible to build the first cities by creating a food surplus and a regular dependable food supply.

They invented law, a system of resolving disputes based on a code of rules and retribution by a central authority rather than relying on private retribution. The Code of Hammurabi(Babylonian) is generally believed to be based on Sumerian law.

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The Comprehensive Guide for Incense Beginners: History, Types, the Making of

As you’re reading this beginners guide for incense, I am guessing that some of you might have seen it at temples or religious ceremonies, others of you might have dabbled with Nag Champa in your more bohemian years, and more likely, you might have smelt an incense burning at a friend’s place, and are curious about what it exactly is. It doesn’t matter what your experience with incense is, this is an introductory guide that starts from the very beginning, and will explain all of the basics to you.

Where does the Name “Incense” come from?

The English word “incense” derives from the Latin word for “to burn”, incendēre.

So in its most basic sense (no pun intended), incense is just different plant materials that are burnt for their fragrant smells. You might have heard of the common incense ingredient sandalwood. Burning a piece of sandalwood for its smell is considered burning incense.

Stories of the First Incense

We think that the initial discovery of incense was accidental. Somewhere sometime in the ancient world, men and women used branches, leaves and other parts of plants to light fires, and soon realized that the different plants produced different aromas when burnt. In fact, some plants smelt really nice when they were burning. Over time, they began to use the nice smelling plants more, and mixed them in different combinations for different special occasions. This, was the beginning of incense.

Although we mostly dwell into the history of incense in China here at Kin, and the earliest documented use of incense was in fact in ancient China, incense relics have been found across many ancient civilizations. They are known to be used from Africa in Egypt, to Europe in Greece and Rome, to many parts of Asia, prominently in India, and most certainly all through the Middle East by the Babylonians.

What we know about the use of incense in ancient China, we believe to also be true in other regions in those eras – that they were used for a far wider range of purposes than today. In scope were: divine blessings, healing powers, exotic flavoring, and general vanity – to make the user smell nice and attractive to the opposite sex. As summed up so eloquently by the late Chinese historian Edward H. Schaefer:

“… In the medieval world of the Far East there was little clear-cut distinction among drugs, spices, perfumes, and incense – that is, among substances which nourish the body and those which nourish the spirit, those which attract a lover and those which attract a divinity”

What is Incense made of?

There are two basic elements to incense: aromatic substances, and a heat source.

The aromatic substance in its “original” or raw form includes a variety of woods, resins, seeds, roots, and sometimes leaves and flowers. In ancient and medieval times, incense tended to be burnt in its raw form, like the sandalwood chips shown below.

In the medieval Chinese palace for example, incense burners would have a top section with a small plate which held wood chips or resins, with a heat source like burning charcoal underneath.

Even today, wood chips called bakhoor, burnt over charcoal, are the preferred form for incense in most Arab countries. Although for variety and affordability reasons, these chips have been dipped in essential oils and mixed with other fragrant ingredients. (High quality, raw fragrant wood chips are extremely expensive today.)

In most of the rest of the world, incense today tends to be in the form of pastes or powders, made into shapes like sticks. The pastes or powders are made from a mixture of aromatic substances ground up from their raw form, with a binding agent added. The incense stick (or whatever other shape its in) can then be directly lit. We will go into more details on the various shapes of incense below.

Types of Incense

Incense Sticks – With Center

The earliest stick shaped incense appeared in China in the Ming Dynasty (1348-1644), and has become the most popular form of incense in use today. Sometimes incense sticks are referred to as “joss sticks”, although this is mostly used in the context of cheaper sticks burnt in large numbers for temples, shrines or other public events.

There are in fact two broad types of incense sticks available on the market today, one with a center, and one without.

The type with a center is seen as more Indian in its origin and associations, although it is also used in parts of China. The widespread Nag Champa incense is almost always made with a bamboo center. Centered incense is made by dipping a thin bamboo stick into waters, essential oils and incense powders in layers. The final incense stick is thin at the bottom, where the bamboo stick is bare, and thick in the body, where the incense mixture has covered the stick.

Some people do not like the smell of the bamboo stick burning, so high quality cored-incense sticks might have a sandalwood stick center.

Incense Sticks – Without Center

The type without a center is the one more commonly used in China, and almost exclusively through Japan and Tibet. It is made simply by rolling the incense paste into a stick shape, and allowing it to dry.

Other Common Forms of Incense

The powder or paste used to make incense sticks can also be made into other shapes. The shapes listed below are less common but still fairly widely available:

Coil incense : a round, spiral shaped incense commonly used in China

Those of you who have travelled to certain temples in Hong Kong may have seen a special type of coil incense which opens up to be a cone spiral

Cone : created in Japan in the 1800s, also widely adopted by the Tibetans. The Tibetan cones have evolved to be quite a bit larger than the Japanese versions (image below shows a size closer to Tibetan cones)

Backflow cone : a variation of the usual cone, where a hole made at the bottom and through the center allows the incense plume to flow downwards (in every other type of incense the smoke flows upwards)

At Kin, we specialize mostly in incense burners for incense sticks (the non-core type) and backflow cones.

Incense Uses

Incense today is still widely used in religious ceremonies all across the world. In China, almost all temples and shrines have large incense burners, and visitors will burn incense as part of their prayers. Many people also burn incense to honor their ancestors, for the opening of new stores, businesses, or moving into new homes.

Many people find the act of lighting, watching and smelling an incense calming. So it is widely used to accompany meditation practices all across the world, or other relaxation activities such as drinking tea or reading.

But more and more incense has been re-integrated into “normal” aspects of modern lives. Many of our friends (and of course us!) use incense as home fragrance, and light a few incense sticks (or cones) a day just to have the smell in their home. When not in use, incense burners are also often great home accent pieces for the shelves or coffee tables.

I mentioned at the beginning that this is a beginner’s guide. Did it answer all your questions? If there are other areas you’d like to find out more about, leave a comment below! Please also spend a moment or two to browse our range of incense and incense holders, or leave your email to find out more about incense.


Emergence of Sumerian Cities

Roughly 10,000 years ago, villages started popping up across Mesopotamia. The people who lived in the region raised animals and grew grains, even as they continued to hunt and gather. Over time, those villages expanded and their people became increasingly dependent on farming.

Archaeologists still aren’t sure exactly what life was like for these early cultures. However, similarities in pottery styles and stamp seals placed on a variety of containers suggests some level of administrative control emerged between 6,000 and 7,000 years ago.

Meanwhile, people started constructing a series of temples using mud bricks at a site called Eridu. The city seems to have been founded around 5400 B.C. and it was occupied for thousands of years until it was finally abandoned for good around 600 B.C.

Eridu’s status was legendary even in ancient times. Babylonians actually believed that Eridu was the oldest city on Earth, having been created by the gods themselves. That kind of reverence attracted modern researchers, too. Even before archaeologists discovered Eridu, they had read about its existence in ancient texts.

"After kinship had descended from heaven, Eridu became (the seat) of kingship," one Sumerian tablet reads.

The area around Eridu was excavated a handful of times between the mid-19th century and the mid-20th century, turning up the remains of a once-sprawling metropolis that saw successive buildings constructed on the remains of temples and other structures that had come before.

Those digs did confirm Eridu as a real and truly ancient metropolis. At around 7,400 years old, Eridu is among humanity’s oldest cities, but nowhere near the oldest. The current favorite contender for Earth’s first city is Çatalhöyük, which sat just north of the commonly accepted edge of the Fertile Crescent in modern-day Turkey. Çatalhöyük was founded 9,600 years ago and also survived for millennia, disappearing just centuries before Eridu was founded.

However, Eridu was just the beginning of Sumer. The civilization quickly grew to include dozens of cities, like Ur, Kish and Uruk. As Sumerian cities exploded in size, Sumer emerged as one of the world’s first great agricultural societies. In time, Eridu would fade in influence and Uruk would take on an outsized role. At its height some 4,800 years ago, Uruk was the largest city in the world. Some estimates suggest the city held as many as 80,000 people at a time when the total human population was somewhere around 15 million.


Species decline

Archaeological evidence indicates that the ancient demand for dye-producing sea snails led to over-exploitation and an associated decline in the populations of some species.

Piles of shells from a purple dye producing Murex sea snails in a processing factory in Tuticorin, India. Kirsten Benkendorff , Author provided

Similarly, modern demand for the shellfish dyes in regional artisan industries and the worldwide fishery for food and ornate shells, is placing pressure on natural populations.

While the opercula can be obtained as a byproduct from other fishing activities, many regional shell fisheries are not effectively monitored. This problem is exacerbated by uncertainty surrounding the impacts of ocean climate change and worldwide mass mortalities in shellfish resulting from disease events.

It is therefore essential that all sea snail fisheries are carefully managed and new opportunities for aquaculture are explored to ensure a sustainable supply to meet future demands.