Imagine that among the many uses of petroleum since Antiquity, we find cosmetics and medicine. Strictly speaking, it is not oil, but bitumen, which is its most dense and viscous part. Today it is produced industrially, but bitumen also exists naturally. For example in the Dead Sea, where it rises from marine sediments and floats to the shore.
It was thousands of years ago that bitumen was recovered and sold. The ancient Egyptians in 2000 BC were big customers. They called it “mumiya” and used it to preserve the dead, the famous mummies … Hence their name!
From China to Iran, bitumen was used in medicine
But back to medicine. This medicinal use of bitumen dates back to the 2nd century BC, when the Chinese extracted bitumen with bamboo tubes and used it to clean wounds, French and Iranian researchers explain in a 2011 book. the only ones. In Mesopotamia, bitumen was used against coughs and in Iran against digestive and respiratory disorders, and even to consolidate fractures! The black gold was then picked up on the surface. Because it was not until the 18th century that English travelers discovered in Baku, Azerbaijan, that oil was available in the form of huge underground deposits.
Highly exposed construction workers
Today, we avoid spreading bitumen on the face: exposure to bitumen (and its emissions) is classified as a probable carcinogen by the IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Those most exposed to bitumen are of course construction workers. Also in Antiquity: bitumen was widely used to waterproof roofs, boats, walls… or even tools. It has also been found on fragments of flint dating from 43,000 BC!