Not only is The Trail of Time one of my very favorite incense books, it’s also one of the few academic books on the topics that’s available in English.  Dr. Bedini uses the pages of this book to shine a light on a nearly forgotten aspect of human history.  Before the advent of reliable mechanical clocks, humans used a wide variety of ways to keep time, especially during the hours of darkness when the sun could not be used as a reference.  Candles, water, sand, rope, and other materials were often utilized in an attempt to keep time when the sun was uncooperative.  The many ways that incense was employed to keep time is fascinating and has inspired me to attempt a variety of projects of my own.

I think the incense “alarm clocks” are the most fascinating.  These clocks were used to tell people when to pray or when guards should change shifts in the middle of the night, among many other things.  One type of alarm clock would use a bell, or other noise maker, attached to a burning incense stick with a thread.  When the incense burned down to where the thread was tied, it would burn the thread and the bell would crash to the ground.  Incense “trails” are lines of powdered incense that is burned on a bed of “white ash”.  Incense trails were also used as alarm clocks, as Dr. Bedini’s book title suggests, by placing distinct aromatics at specific points on the trail.  When the trail burned to that point, the special aromatic would be heated and its scent released.  Imagine knowing you could leave work for the day when you could smell the frankincense burning!

The Trail Of Time is an amazing and fascinating book, but it isn’t cheap.  It’s an academic book with limited printings, so if you choose to buy a copy you might want to hunt around for a used one.  Better yet, check with your local library and see if they have (or can get) a copy for you to read.  You might have to ask about “inter-library loan” to get a copy from a neighboring library.  If you have an incense nerd friend, like me, who owns a copy you might be able to borrow one to read.  It’s definitely worth the effort.