Monday, 29 February 2016

Who Invented Soap?

Have you thought about who and when invented everyday items we use in our life? As we know great ideas come in the bathroom, and this question struck me while I was in the shower - who invented soap? Here are some popular theories I found.

First written evidence of making and usage of soap-like products has been found during excavations in ancient Babylonian and Sumerian area. Inscriptions on clay containers tell that they were filled with slurry mixture of plant oils and wood ash. This first form of soap was used for washing cotton and wool as part of preparation for cloth weaving, but not used for body washing.

Egyptian papyrus from around 1500 B.C. indicates that pyramid builders used mixture of animal fat, vegetable oil and salts to treat soars, skin conditions and for body washing.
Ancient Greeks were said to have taken washing into the next level. They used the combination of lye and beech tree ashes to cleanse pots and the statues of their gods. Around 600 B.C. the Phoenicians made soap from goat tallow and wood ashes.

Most popular theory, despite the lack of historical proof, is that soap was discovered accidentally when rain washed the fat and wood ashes remaining after animal sacrifice on the top of Mount Sapo into the Tiber River where Roman women were doing laundry. However, historian Pliny the Elder disputes this claim by pointing out that in animal sacrifice Romans burnt only bones and inedible parts, not meat and fat.

Whether or not Romans "invented" soap or borrowed it from conquered Gallic and Germanic tribes, by 200 A.D. soap was vastly incorporated into bathing. There are evidences of soap making industry, too - an entire soap-making factory was found in the ruins of Pompeii (destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in the 79 A.D.).
In other corners of the world, like ancient China, soap made of fat or oil wasn't present until modern times. There were of course soap-like detergents, but they were maid from vegetation and herbs.

In middle centuries Catholic Church despised bathing as hedonistic ritual. Masses followed the rule blindly and this is believed to have contributed to the spread of plague and other diseases.

Nowadays, soap is made with many more ingredients, yet the basics remain oil and alkali salts. No matter if you prefer bar or liquid, it can be used for way more things than bathing - like carpet cleaning, loosening zippers, even in gardening to kill bugs.

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