Ancient Uses of Plant Resin

Natural resin is one of the most versatile substances that you can find. It is a sticky substance that is secreted generally by coniferous trees as a means of protection. It is toxic towards insects and herbivores and helps to keep the tree protected from harm. Resin has been harvested and used by humans since ancient times. Even in ancient Egypt and Greece, resin was used as a strong adhesive. There’s proof to suggest that it has religious importance also.

In ancient Egypt, resin was mainly used for religious reasons. Resin is generally composed of organic compounds known as terpenes, which are aromatic organic compounds. They are very sweet-smelling, which is why they were burnt and used as incense during religious ceremonies. Archaeological evidence from the tomb of Tutankhamen suggests that resin was a common element in most graves and crypts during mummification. Apart from religious uses, resin was also used as an adhesive, a varnish and a cementing material.

Resin was a very important substance in ancient Greek and Roman civilizations as well. A plant resin called Mastic was harvested and used in these cultures for at least 2500 years. Mastic is a very unique resin that can be eaten. It was used as a form of ancient chewing gum. It was grown and sold on the island of Chios. When Chios was under Ottoman rule, mastic was a very valuable commodity. Anyone caught stealing mastic was promptly executed.

Before the sultanate, mastic was also used for its amazing medicinal properties. There are records which show that Hippocrates, the father of physicians, used mastic as a remedy for digestive ailments and colds. The ancient Romans also used mastic as a flavouring agent while making their famous spiced wine, which they called “conditum paradoxum”. Mastic is still a major delicacy in the Mediterranean region. It is also used by the Greek Orthodux Church to make holy oils for anointing purposes.

Around 1200 AD, resin was also used by the Mongol warriors to make reinforced bows and arrows. In fact, the Mongols were the first warriors to use pine resin to make composite bows which had a much longer range than normal bows. This is one of the main reasons why the Mongols were feared all over the world as fearsome invaders. Resin was also used all over the world to build, reinforce and waterproof the wooden ships of olden days.

Apart from that, resin derivatives like turpentine, varnish and lacquer have been in use all over the world. These items are so universal that they are also in use today. Even in the East Asian countries, lacquer is very important when it comes to the art of ceramics and pottery. Varnish is also used universally all over the world. Fossilized resins known as amber and copal are very valuable and have been used to make jewellery since the ancient times.

Resin was even used in the ancient Stone Age for hafting together tools and weapons made of stone. Resin is just a very versatile product that has served humanity for thousands of years. It will continue to be relevant forever.


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