The African Incense Trade and Its Impacts in Pharaonic Egypt

Pearce Paul Creasman, Kei Yamamoto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Among ancient Egypt’s most prized imports were resins and other aromatics obtained mainly from or through Nubia and Punt, an area that included the African and Arabian shores of the southern Red Sea. Egyptian texts emphasized the association between these places and the imports of aromatics, indicating that the use of incense and other types of aromatics was likely a foreign introduction to ancient Egypt. This paper surveys the Egyptian terminology for specific and general forms of incense and proposed modern identifications. It presents the evidence for Egyptian contact with Punt in the context of the incense trade and shows the importance of African aromatics within several spheres of Egyptian culture from the late Predynastic to Ptolemaic times. Egyptian religious practices embraced incense as a signifier of the divine, and Nubian gods in the Egyptian pantheon were intimately associated with incense. Apart from religion, aromatics played important roles in the political realm, and both the aromatics trade and processing were a state enterprise. We explore the political, economic, and commercial networks that shaped the importation of aromatics in ancient Egypt and the implications for understanding cultural appropriation and intercultural entanglement between Egypt and its southern neighbors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-365
Number of pages19
JournalAfrican Archaeological Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Ancient Egypt
  • Aromata
  • Incense
  • Intercultural entanglement
  • Nubia
  • Punt

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Archaeology
  • Archaeology


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