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Terebinth Resin in Antiquity: Possible Uses in the Late Bronze Age Aegean Region

Claire Patricia Peachey
Thesis: May 1995
Chair: Bass
Nautical Archaeology Program

The remains of an estimated one metric ton of terebinth resin, the yellowish, semi-fluid, aromatic resin of a Pistacia tree, were recently discovered on the Late Bronze Age shipwreck site at Uluburun, Turkey.  The resin was carried in an estimated 130 Canaanite amphoras, as part of a rich and diverse cargo that included eleven metric tons of copper and tin, as well as other raw materials, tools, weapons, and luxury goods on a ship journeying to some destination west or south of Uluburun.  This is the largest single deposit of terebinth resin from antiquity ever found, and the first to be identified by  modern analytical methods.  The botanical origin of the resin is thought to be Pistacia atlantica, but the Pistacia genus includes many resin-producing trees, all of which have been well known and economically important from ancient times to the present.

The sources and characteristics of modern terebinth resin are described, followed by a discussion of Pistacia trees and their many products - resin, fruits, leaves, bark, wood, and galls.  Some possible uses of terebinth resin in the Late Bronze Aegean region are then explored, as this area is likely to have been one of the intended destinations of the Uluburun ship.  A discussion of the accepted translation of the Linear B word ki-ta-no as the fruits of the terebinth tree demonstrates that the word might refer to any of the products of the terebinth tree, not only fruits or, as was suggested after the discovery of the Uluburun cargo, resin.  The ideogram *123 usually associated with ki-ta-no indicates a dry good, and is often considered to signify an "aromatic"; all products of the terebinth tree can be characterized as dry goods, and all have aromatic and astringent properties.  The evidence for the use of terebinth resin in the perfumed oil industry and as incense in Late Bronze Age Greece is then briefly surveyed.  The Late Bronze Age evidence from the Aegean region is scanty, but parallels from other regions and later periods allow the tentative conclusion that terebinth resin might have been used for both of these purposes.  Confirmation requires discovery and analysis of residues.

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