Expensively wrapped cats...& a little about incense


ScienceDaily reported this week on the TLC ancient Egyptians applied to the mummification of certain favored animals, including cats and crocodiles:

"Mummification of animals has been thought of as cheap and cheerful, but this shows that a significant amount of effort, knowledge and expense was afforded to them," explained Dr Buckley. "Cats in particular received special attention and this fits with the idea of cats having a special place in Egyptian life." Cats were associated with the Egyptian goddess Bastet, who was particularly revered. To mummify a cat for its journey to the afterlife, the typical recipe would have been 80 per cent fat or oil, 10 per cent pistacia resin, 10 per cent conifer resin and a pinch of cinnamon.

Resin was commonly used even before mummification, as incense for the graves. You might not be surprised to learn that pistacia resin is part of the genus Pistacia, which includes a variety of species--some producing resin, some not. The most popular of this genus is the Pistacia vera, aka the Pistachio.

Resin-as-incense continues today, perhaps the most popular being Pistacia lentiscus, or gum mastic--the first chewing gum. And the most notorious? That would have to be Abremlin Incense, a secular recreation of Qetoret, the kind of incense forbidden for lay use in Exodus:"Whoever makes any like it, to smell it, he shall be cut off from his people" (Exodus 30:37-38). If you're curious about making your own (not necessarily verboten) incense, Scents of Earth has a primer.