Saturday, July 3, 2010

Historical Beginnings: A Few of My Favorite Things

Anyone who writes historical fiction knows the amount of research you must put into some of the simplest things. There can be no assumptions about anything that was said or used or thought. It requires authors to spend hours and hours looking up little facts, but it's not as painstaking as you think. For those of us who love history, it can be hours of sublime happiness, especially when you find that one little fact that makes you say..."Wow! I never knew that."

In my research over the years, I've compiled a list of some of my favorite modern world discoveries. Though the nature of many of these items has changed significantly over the years, let's take a peek at where they came from...

Dark Chocolate: The first people known to make chocolate were the ancient Mayan and Aztecs of Mexico and Central America. The original recipe mixed ground cacao seeds with various seasonings to make a spicy, frothy drink. Spanish conquistadors eventually brought the drink back to Spain, where new recipes were developed and spread throughout Europe. New technologies have changed the texture and taste of chocolate, but it remains one of the world’s favorite flavors.

Purses: Louis Vuitton started as a luggage company in nineteenth century Paris, right around the time travel became popular in the modern world. When Vuitton’s son took over the company in 1892, he introduced the power and popularity of the handbag. Today, these posh purses attract a cult like following from celebrities, socialites, and fashionistas alike.

Lipstick: History tells us that 5,000 years ago, in the ancient city of Ur near Babylon, semi-precious stones were crushed and smeared on the lips. Ancient Egyptian women squeezed out purple-red color from iodine and bromine, which, due its dangerous nature, came to be known as “the kiss of death.” It is also said that Cleopatra’s lipstick was made from carmine beetles, which gave a red color pigment, and was mixed with a base of ant eggs. Henna was also one of the preferred substances among Egyptians, and fish scales were used to provide the shimmer to the lipstick.

Mascara: Ancient Egyptians play a large role in mascara’s history. Dating as far back as 3400 B.C., Egyptians used bone and ivory as mascara applicators, and blended kohl with crocodile dung, water and honey to create the first mascara. Because eyes were believed to be the windows of the soul, they used mascara and lined their eyes with kohl to protect them from evil spirits. It wasn’t until the Victorian era in the 1830’s that the practice of enhancing lashes was revived. In 1872, petroleum jelly was patented and eventually became the most prominent ingredient in modern mascara. In 1917, the founder of Maybelline Cosmetics created the first packaged cosmetic mascara.

Perfume: Though France is often considered the birthplace of perfume, it actually originated in Egypt, where it was used for a wide variety of reasons, such as cosmetics, medicinal, as toiletries, and even aphrodisiacs. The use of perfume spread to other countries across Europe and the Middle East, but it wasn’t until the reign of Louis XV in France that perfume became more popular and accessible to the masses.

Face Cream: Thank you, ancient Rome! When archaeologists unearthed a metal container - with the lid still on - researchers learned the ingredients, duplicated the recipe, and then rubbed it on. What it produced was a white layer with a smooth, powdery texture - thanks to the starch - and this is still used in modern cosmetics.
Nail Polish: Around 3000 B.C. in ancient China, the early mixture of nail polish included beeswax, gelatin, gum Arabic (found in African trees) and egg whites. They also often added rose petals and orchids for color. Around the same time, upper class Egyptians wore nail polish similar to lacquer paint as a symbol of money and prosperity.
Do any of these things surprise you? What have you discovered in your own research or even reading that has surprised you?


Nancy July 4, 2010 at 11:29 AM  

Gerri, I love this kind of stuff. Who knew, about Louis Vuitton, for example?

A fun post!

Joleen James July 4, 2010 at 11:52 AM  


Thanks for all the fun facts. Intersting info. :)

Gerri Russell July 4, 2010 at 1:13 PM  

Nancy and Joleen, I'm so glad you found the information interesting!

EmilyBryan July 6, 2010 at 4:26 AM  

It just goes to show that people don't change that much over the years. Technology improves, but people still want the same things.

Gerri Russell July 6, 2010 at 8:00 PM  

Emily, I'm glad some things change. Really, very excited that lipstick isn't made from carmine beetles and ant eggs anymore. :-)

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

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