The word perfume derives from the Latin perfumare, meaning “to smoke through”. Perfumery, as the art of making perfumes, began in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization and maybe Ancient China. It was further refined by the Romans and the Arabs.
The world’s first-recorded chemist is considered a woman named Tapputi, a perfume maker mentioned in a cuneiform tablet from the 2nd millennium BC in Mesopotamia. She distilled flowers, oil, and calamus with other aromatics, then filtered and put them back in the still several times.
In India, perfume and perfumery existed in the Indus civilization (3300 BC – 1300 BC).
Ancient Egyptian perfume vessel in shape of a monkey is dated 1550-1295 BC, and can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City).
In 2003, archaeologists uncovered what are believed to be the world’s oldest surviving perfumes in Pyrgos, Cyprus. The perfumes date back more than 4,000 years. They were discovered in an ancient perfumery, a 300-square-meter (3,230 sq ft) factory housing at least 60 stills, mixing bowls, funnels, and perfume bottles. In ancient times people used herbs and spices, such as almond, coriander, myrtle, conifer resin, and bergamot, as well as flowers.
In the 9th century the Arab chemist Al-Kindi (Alkindus) wrote a book of the Chemistry of Perfume and Distillations, which contained more than a hundred recipes for fragrant oils, salves, aromatic waters, and substitutes or imitations of costly drugs. The book also described 107 methods and recipes for perfume-making and perfume-making equipment, such as the alembic (which still bears its Arabic name from Greek ἄμβιξ, “cup”, “beaker” described by Synesius in the 4th century).