Deciphered: The Perfume Recipe of Egyptian Queen Cleopatra
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The smell of history
Research initiatives are sprouting up to figure out what the past must have smelled like and what scents from the present should be kept for posterity.
Finding relic odors is difficult because it requires recording a fleeting phenomenon. Archaeologists often seek and study palpable objects, such as those on display in museums.
Volatile odor compounds dissipate once the original odor source is removed. According to Barbara Huber, a PhD student in archeology at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology in Jena, Germany, most odors come from biological materials that decompose rapidly, such as plants, food, human and animal bodies.
Despite these obstacles, scientists now have access to a number of cutting-edge biomolecular techniques that allow them to decode ancient odors.
According to CNN, it's not always possible to see the clues that will help you decipher a scent's history.
Invisible biomolecular residues can be studied by scientists using methods like chromatography in objects like incense burners, perfume bottles, cooking pots, and food jars. mass spectrometry, a method for identifying compounds by determining which molecules are heavier or lighter, and the constituents of a mixture.
Huber claims that lipids (fats, waxes, and oils) that are insoluble in water are among the most informative biomolecules. After being used in things like lamp fuel or aromatic ointments, which were then applied to the body or the corpse, they are often found in porous pottery. Feces contain lipids as well.
Herbs and spices, as well as resins, aromatic woods, and fruit, all contain organic compounds that Huber studies. These compounds are called secondary metabolites. The chemical makeup and aroma of perfume, medicine, and food can all be deduced with the help of these compounds.
Amino acids that serve as early warning signs of disease have been uncovered through the sequencing of ancient DNA and the large-scale study of ancient proteins known as proteomics. Chronic bad breath can be caused by periodontitis.
Huber's findings, however, suggest that smelling for clues is rarely the final step.
Recreate the scent
Huber tried to recreate the aroma by analyzing incense burners discovered at the 5,000-year-old Tayma archaeological site in Saudi Arabia.
She uncovered secondary metabolites that pointed to the use of frankincense, myrrh, and pistachio-infused myrrhs in public and sacred structures.
To discover how these ancient locations might have smelled, Ms. Huber collaborated with a perfumer to try to recreate the scents.
Researcher of ancient and medieval thought at the Czech Academy of Sciences Sean Coughlin hopes to recreate Cleopatra's perfumes using the recipes found in ancient Egyptian texts and on temple walls.
"When you stick to a set procedure, you can usually anticipate the outcome. No purpose is served by copying an old recipe. Our ultimate goal is to apply chemical principles. organic to learn more about the production method, as we believe that this is what ultimately determines the variety of aromas that can be achieved "Coughlin remarked.
Mr. Coughlin compares his efforts to the trials seen on "America's Test Kitchen." He still sees development, despite the fact that outcomes have fallen short of his expectations.
Coughlin notes that while most modern perfumes use ethanol as a base, there are still some delicate natural scents that must be diluted with oils or fats.
However, modern chemists acknowledge the ancient perfumers' contributions. They were the first to use methods like distillation and liquid fractionation, which are now standard in the scientific community.
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