Monday, April 24, 2017

T for Tapputi: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Recipe for Perfume

Combine flowers with oil, calamus,
cyperus, myrrh and balsam. 
Mix with water or other solvents.  
Distill. Filter several times. 
 (my format)

This recipe for perfume was found in ancient Babylonian Mesopotamia on a cuneiform tablet dating 1200 BC. It’s the world’s first known record of a perfume-maker and a chemist, and the oldest recorded reference to a still, the apparatus used to distill liquids. The recipe had been recorded by Tapputi (also called Tapputi-Belatekallium).  

"Belatekallium" was the title for female overseer, which would have meant Tapputi had a position of authority at the Royal Palace. A second name, nini, was inscribed on the cuneiform with Tapputi's, but the first part of the name was missing on the tablet [???-nini]

1200 BC. Tapputi-Belatekallium's cuneiform table with perfume recipe.

Ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians are credited with the origins of perfume-making. Egyptians used perfume in religious and cleansing ceremonies, and for embalming, but eventually used perfume as a personal scent too. Burning perfumed incense to the gods would have been important in both cultures, for offerings to their deities and for enhancing the mind and spirit. The medicinal properties of perfume would have played a role as well. In Mesopotamia, for instance, perfume was used for inhalation, poultices, and in medicated baths. 

Egypt relief of perfume-making from flowers pressed in a cloth, 4th Cent BC

The connection between a perfume-maker and a chemist did not require much convincing for me. As I wrote this piece, memories of my daughter and the little perfume-maker kit she had received at Christmas years back kept popping into mind. It may have been her most favorite gift of all time. Dolls were of no interest in comparison. The family oohed and awed over the fragrant scents she created. Years later when she pursued a degree in Micro-Biology, I remembered the little scientist blossoming in our home. It made perfect sense she had chosen a science to study. Perhaps Tapputi had been a similar girl as a child. 

Perfume kit I remember giving our daughter for Christmas

Worwood, Valerie Ann, 2006. Aromatherapy for the Soul: Healing the Spirit with Fragrance and Essential Oils.
New World Library.
Palmer, Irene, 2013. Perfume, Soap and Candle Making - The Beginner’s Guide. Lulu.


Sharon M. Himsl

Writer/Author. Blogging since 2011. 
Published with Evernight Teen: 
~~The Shells of Mersing


  1. Hi Sharon - this is so interesting ... amazing what information we have available to us from ancient times. How fascinating you gave your daughter this perfume making kit - and then she went on to study science: Micro Biology ... lovely .. cheers Hilary

    1. I sent an email to my daughter but haven't heard back. I hope she gets a kick out of this! Thanks, Hilary.

  2. Why am I not surprised that the first known perfume maker was a woman?? :)

    1. Yes, makes sense. We would have used flowers to scent our hair.

  3. Women WERE the first chemists! Cooking is chemistry and so is perfume-making. I bet Tapputi made the best scents in Babylon! If she was writing down the formula, it must have been successful.

    I hear that the ancient Egyptians used to put perfumed cones of fat on their heads at parties. They would melt in the heat and run down your back, cooling you and scenting you at the same time.

  4. Hi Sue! I find it amazing we have her recipe. Someone needs to try this and let us know what they think. Wow, perfumed cones....never heard of that.

  5. Such great memories!
    I bet she had a great time creating
    her perfumes.

    M : )

    1. I bet she did too. Thanks for stopping by Melinda!

  6. This is a fun post about perfume and your daughter! Was this kit from the 1970's?? It looks like it to me:)

  7. Early 1980s....but guessing it was available in 70s too.


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You could call me an eternal optimist, but I'm really just a dreamer. l believe in dream fulfillment, because 'sometimes' dreams come true. This is a blog about my journey as a writer and things that inspire and motivate me.