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Ivory Unguent Box of Queen Nefertari
Ivory Unguent Box of Queen Nefertari (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

The story begins with Adrian and I booking to go on a Nile cruise in late February. Of course, I am doing all the research on ancient Egypt that I can, and in the process, I learned of an unguent jar that was discovered in Nefertari’s tomb.

The principal wife of Ramesses the Great, Nefertari was renowned as the most beautiful woman in the land. Her husband loved her so much that he built a magnificent tomb for her, and wrote a poem where he calls her “the beauty of beauties.” The unguent jar itself is made from hippopotamus ivory and rose wood, and the contents have been revealed as argan oil, cedar and frankincense.

I couldn’t wait to recreate this unguent, but I had to add a few extra ingredients – you will see why in a moment.

Myrrh is just so Egyptian. Due to its powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, it was used in the embalming process, and the resinous essential oil is also a very effective anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. It soothes eczema, nourishes dry skin, and fades unwanted blemishes.

Spikenard is a very sacred oil of the ancient world. Also known as Nard, it is deeply calming and is said to enhance one’s spiritual connection with the Gods. The Egyptian life revolved entirely around honouring their pantheon of Gods.

I also added 24 carat gold leaf because the Egyptian royalty were fed a mysterious substance called Mfktz. This mystical substance is pure gold, heated to a temperature where is collapses into a white powder which has many fascinating properties. Some of its effects includes balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and bringing about a more enlightened state of consciousness. It also reverses the aging process of the skin cells and is said to bring an inner glow to the complexion. To this day, gold is used in the most expensive of skin care products.

I had to make this unguent whilst playing music dedicated to the cat Goddess Bastet, who is known as ‘She of the Ointment Jar’. She is the goddess of perfumes and protection, and was so beloved that the punishment for killing a cat was death, because all cats were living representatives of Bastet.

My Nefertari Unguent contains all these ingredients: Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh with Cedar, Spikenard and Argan oil. I am not used to applying ointment to my face, but this unguent sinks into my skin leaving it silky soft, non-greasy and feeling very nourished. The fragrance is appealing. It is quiet and assured, carrying a peaceful resinous woody fragrance, which seems to protect one from the chaos of the outside world.