Frankincense, or olibanum, obtained from trees of the genus Boswellia, is the best known of the aromatic gum resins used throughout the world as incense in religious ceremonies. The earliest recorded use of frankincense is found in an inscription on the tomb of a 15th century BC Egyptian queen named Hathsepsut. Ancient Egyptians burned frankincense as incense and ground the charred resin into a powder called kohl. Kohl was used to make the distinctive black eyeliner seen on so many figures in Egyptian art. Egyptians also used myrrh resin as
incense and as an important ingredient in the embalming process, sometimes placing the crude resin in the eviscerated body cavities of mummies. The earliest archaeological evidence for the burning of incense comes from the Old Kingdom in Ancient Egypt, where spoon-shaped incense burners with long handles have been found. However, no chemical evidence exists of the exact resin used. Dr Richard Evershed and colleagues from the University of Bristol managed to chemically characterise frankincense from the archaeological record at the site of Quasr Ibrim, Egyptian Nubia.
a-boswellic acid a pentacyclic triterpenoid. Click for 3D structure in VRML format.