Our Soap History
Our Soap History is a curious one, as many of our soap making ancestors did not write down their soap recipes or processes. Have no doubt that our ancestors did make soap, in a variety of forms.
The First Soap Recipe:
Cuneiform is a system of writing first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia c. 3500-3000 BCE. The first soap recipe that we have found evidence of was written in Cuneiform. It was written in a clay tablet. That is bold confidence in a soap recipe! This recipe turned into a soap slurry or paste and was used to cleanse the Priests, Priestesses and temple attendants before ritual. Also, this same soap slurry was used to clean cloth.
It is not difficult to see if one is washing clothes that their hands would also be cleaned, however, according to some historians, we have been a dirty people until large scale industrial manufactured soaps appeared. Even when the English soap tax was levied in 1712 CE and lasted 141 years, we were supposedly filthy.
From 1712-1853 CE making soap on an industrial level was a break-even endeavor, financially. They did not record their behaviors, because reporting to the government - to anyone - or going against the King would have had dire consequences. Soap was now being heavily taxed and considered a luxury item. Making soap and not giving the King his share of the proceeds was unwise.
Monkeys groom, horses groom, birds groom... To say that humans do not understand when they are dirty or when they smell foul, is a large disservice to humans and makes humans less intelligent than all other animals.
This is the question that cannot be answered, but needs to be asked.
If someone didn't teach you to wash your body, would you?
The Germans knew about soap before the Romans. The Romans beat themselves with leaves and branches and used fullers earth, because that's how you clean cloth - with fullers earth. Fullers earth is put into the cloth and then beat out.
Fulling is an important step in the production of woolen garments, and can be traced back to ancient times. Cuneiform texts from Mesopotamia mention a raw material, im-bab-bár (Akkadian: gaṣṣu: ‘gypsum, plaster’), literally “white earth”, which was delivered to fullers for the finishing of cloth. There are several Biblical references to fulling (2 Kings 18:17; Isaiah 7:3 and 36:2; Malachi 3:2; Mark 9:3), but the materials used to whiten the fabric are not specified. Pliny the Elder mentions several types of fuller’s earth (creta fullonia in Latin) from a variety of locations, each with different properties and therefore different uses.
I've been reading many books on the subject of our soap history. A search that has produced few results and less information about our soap Craefting history. We have been using soap in some from - a slurry, paste or bar - for thousands of years. However, if you listen to soap industry information they imply we have been dirty until the industries came to save us. Rats clean themselves, raccoons wash their food, most animals groom in some form. We are no different and know, without being told by commercials, when we're dirty. What we have done to clean ourselves is subjective, whether we've used soap slurry, paste or ashes from a fire, but to say we don't know when our skin is sticky or we stink and have to be told when to bath, like children, is ridiculous.
Being dirty is uncomfortable. We strive to find comfort. All animals do this, birds wash in water and groom their feathers. In part, for survival. If their feathers are unkempt or damaged they cannot fly.
We would have solved this issue with or without letting the King know. We, as a people, are clever, resilient and have continued - despite imposed restrictions - and at times, in the face of those restrictions.
I'm on the hunt for our true soap history.
No worries, I will find our true history, not what industrialists and google wants you to know. I just read a book printed in 1957. That author knew more about our soap history than what google and contemporary writers tell you.
I can share this: when those who figured things out, went against "common" knowledge were considered strictly alternative; outside the mainstream; not towing the company line. Our ancestors would not have used the word "alternative", but something akin to "witch". Once someone was labeled witch, it turns into another story.
As far as I can see so far, is most people who write about our history have an agenda. A less than transparent agenda. My agenda is this, to discover, based on facts and understanding, what we have done to clean ourselves. Dogmas have no place in discovering another story. And, that is exactly what some historians do, find the thread of the story, as we did not live it ourselves. It's much like looking into someone's sewing box and trying to work out what kind of clothes they made. It's possible, but not the entire story.
Uncovering our stories from the past isn't a direct truth, any more than one person has the whole tale of any event, but more akin to offing another perspective, fresh eyes on a subject.
Trust I'm on the hunt for our history and will share the story I find - all the hidden ways our An-Sisters made soap and cleaning supplies to keep their loved ones hale and hearty.
If there was a tax levied, or should I say a tax so heavy you could not make soap, would you?
I read your article about the soap history and keen to get more details and the name of the book that was written in 1957 about soap..
Very Nice, I still need to dig some very old magazines out and see if there is anything soapy in them.
I would love to read what you have found and could I perhaps have the name of the book you read?
I love how the researcher in you comes out with such passion. Passion keeps one educated and true to self. I too research till the last hours of the day are gone and admire anyone who has the same ware with all to keep the oneself determined. I see that the love and inspiration for art and soap keep meshing so that it pushes you further. You inspire so many and share that passion to further us all to follow in our own way. I applaud you and your the way share without secrets. You are truly an inspiration to our craft. Thank you for your time and effort to show that anyone can dream a dream too. Thank you for all that you are and all that you do.