Rarely has there been a household item so taken for granted, present in almost every under-sink cupboard in the world, yet largely ignored as humdrum and unexciting. Soap has been a part of our everyday lives throughout the centuries, and yet we know little about its story.
The earliest references to soap date back to ancient Babylon almost 5,000 years ago, when fats were boiled with ashes to make a substance that could be used to clean all manner of things. References to soap appear across the ancient world, with the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and Celts all using similar techniques. In the 7th and 8th centuries AD, soap made using animal fats was the norm in Italy and Spain, spreading eventually to France. However, more pleasantly scented options from the Middle East, made with the ubiquitous olive oil of the region, soon became appealing.
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