About 15 men gathered to hear David Beavis and Don Gaff speak about the trade in frankincense and the history of agriculture in the arid lands of southern Arabia, the horn of Africa and the Negev.
Frankincense and myrrh were harvested as resins from trees and used widely. Up to 3000 tons a year may have been traded. They were used as perfume and in burial rites, or embalming. They were so expensive that middlemen handling them were often strip-searched at the end of each day.
David traced the story of frankincense as far back as 1500 BC. Archaeological discoveries found pictures showing ships bringing frankincense trees from the Somali region to the Egyptian Queen Hatsheput
At the same time, domestication of camels in 1300 BC brought about increasing trade in frankincense and myrrh from the Dhofar region of Oman. Trade routes were partly by sea and partly by land. The sea routes included the area of what was Babylon. Perhaps it was from this area that the wise men/astrologers
brought their gifts to Jesus.
Nowadays the trade is only a few tons.
Don Gaff showed photos of small earthenware pots in which frankincense is burned. Small ventilation holes in the side of the pots allow the frankincense to burn slowly and the fragrant warm fumes to escape from the large opening at the top of the cup-shaped pots.
Don also described a unique ancient method of making annual rainfalls of 4 inches amount to the equivalent of 30 inches, by helping the rain to track down long catchment slopes, consisting of loose earth, onto a smaller area for growing crop plants in stepped terraces filled with soil at the bottom of the slope. This happened from about 300 BC to about 640 AD in the Negev desert in southern present-day Israel.
He also told us of 2000-year old date seeds found in Herod’s fortress palace of Masada. These seeds still grew date trees when planted today. Carbon-dating was used to validate the seeds’ age and confound the sceptics!