From my Hide: News from the past…

David Holt-Biddle.

RESEARCHERS analysing the contents of flasks dating back about 3 000 years found in archaeological digs in northern Israel, have found traces of cinnamaldehyde, the compound that gives cinnamon its flavour.

Up to now ancient traces of cinnamon had only been found in India and Sri Lanka and this new discovery indicates that there may well have been a flourishing international spice trade that long ago.

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The flasks were all made in what was then Phoenicia and were apparently specifically designed to hold precious contents – they have been found in special places like temples and treasuries.*

Cinnamon is an evergreen bush and it is the bark that we use as the spice. Along with cassia, which is native to China and Sumatra, they are probably the oldest spices known to man and even appeared in the Old Testament of the Bible – herewith the Lord’s instructions to Moses on the blending of holy anointing oil, “Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrh… and sweet cinnamon and of sweet calamus.

And cassia and of olive oil”, Exodus 30, verses 23 and 24**, a more comprehensive recipe containing those spices also appears in the Jewish Talmud.

Nero buried his wife with a year’s supply of cinnamon; a Frankish monastery in AD 716 ordered five pounds of it to be sent to Normandy; it was used for centuries in Eastern temples to disguise unpleasant smells; when the Dutch seized what was then Ceylon from the Portuguese in the 1600s they imposed a strict monopoly on the cinnamon trade and when the British seized the island from the Dutch in 1796 they maintained the monopoly until 1833.

Today, cinnamon is used in all sorts of ways, from mulled wine to boiled mutton or custards.***

Egyptian and German archaeologists have uncovered a massive 3 000 year old statue of Pharaoh Ramses ll in derelict land just outside Cairo. The statue is eight metres tall and weighs several tons.

Ramses ruled Egypt from 1279BC to 1213BC and the dig is on a vast temple complex established by the pharaoh in the ancient city of Heliopolis. The archaeologists, who are racing developers over the land, say the statue is one of the most important ancient Egyptian finds ever. ****

And finally, here’s a feel-good story. The UK National Trust has just been given a small island in the Lake District that inspired the Trust’s founding in 1895. When Grasmere Island was sold to a private buyer at an auction in 1893, a local clergyman was so dismayed that he vowed to establish an organisation that would see to the preservation of such places for the entire nation and the National Trust was born.

Now, 124 years later, the tiny island has been given to the Trust by its owner, who has decided to remain anonymous.**** How very nice.

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*The Digging Stick, magazine of the South African Archaeological Society. **The Holy Bible, the Oxford University Press, ***A Pinch of Spices, Desmond Briggs, Blond & Briggs, Colchester, 1978, and ****The Week: the Best of the British and Foreign Media.

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DAVID HOLT-BIDDLE

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