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For more than 5,000 years, the Arabs have traded two highly prized fragrances —frankincense and myrrh— obtained from trees that grow exclusively in the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. The dried, aromatic sap was transported by caravan across the Sinai desert to Egypt, via the so called “incense route”, from where they were loaded onto ships and sailed to far away destinations across the Mediterranean Sea.

Frankincense and myrrh were in high demand from Europe to Asia. The Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Israelites and numerous other cultures used these perfumes as part of their religious ceremonies, and in burial rituals as an embalming material, and as an offering to the departed. Frankincense was one of the three gifts brought to the baby Jesus by the three wise men, according to The Gospel of Matthew.

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Photo credit: Chris Price/Flickr

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