The history of great women in science is often overlooked. However, increasingly historians are drawing our attention to the female thinkers across the ages that have had a transformative impact on the modern world.
One such example can be found in ancient Mesopotamia, with Tapputi, the world’s very first recorded chemist. She, along with her colleague known only as Nina, developed formulas, techniques and tools for perfume-making that have endured for millennia.
According to Cosmos Magazine, a Bronze Age clay tablet dating to around 1200 BC found in the ancient Babylonian kingdom relates the story of these two women, Tapputi Belatekallim and Ninu, perfume makers in the court of the king.
Written in cuneiform, and carved into damp clay, this inscription provides tantalizing details about the life, work and reputation of these two female chemists.
In Bronze Age Mesopotamia, perfume was a widely used and important commodity that required particular skills to produce. It was most commonly used in religious ceremonies, and carried an important symbolic significance.
According to the Perfume Society, perfume and burning incense was considered to form a bridge between gods and men, and offered the possibility of communing with the divine. In addition, it was believed that sweet scents were pleasing to the gods, and so bodies prepared for the afterlife needed to be treated with a variety of perfumes.
Ancient perfumes were crafted with considerable skill and knowledge. Their makers required much more than a nose for fine scents, but rather, needed to have an intimate knowledge of chemistry and processes of distillation.
Tapputi and Ninu would have used a wide variety of ingredients, including specially prepared oils, myrrh, different types of flowers and natural resins, which were skillfully pressed and manipulated in order to make fragrant, sweet scents that would stand the test of time.