Team of Scientists Recreates the Smell of Ancient Mummified Balm


A team of scientists identified and recreated the scent used in the mummification of ancient Egyptian women, more than 3,500 years ago. The product, dubbed the ‘fragrance of immortality’, is now being introduced in a new exhibition exploring ancient Egyptians’ obsession with life after death.

Even though thousands of years have passed, there are still many ancient Egyptian mummification practices that are unknown to history. But now, the research team is looking for new clues.

Using modern technology, a team of experts at Germany’s Max Planck Institute has identified and recreated the scent used in the mummification of a female figure in Egypt. The team’s research centered on substances used to embalm noble women of Senetnay around 1,450 BC. British archaeologist Howard Carter discovered the woman’s remains in the Valley of the Kings in 1900. Carter’s fame increased in 1923 when he discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb.

The research team took small residue samples from two canopy jars that once contained Senetnay’s lungs and liver.

The head of the research team from Max Planck, Barbara Huber, explained, “We only took remains, fragments and small traces, mummification balm, substances that were applied to the body to face life after death. We sampled these canopic jars, then analyzed the mummification balm. And based on its molecular composition, we can identify the ancient scent of immortality or life after death.”

Examining its molecular composition, the team found that the balm contained a complex mixture of beeswax, vegetable oils, fats, resins, balsamic substances, and more. According to experts, the mixture of materials not only provides new insight into the mummification process, but also Egypt’s extensive trade routes at that time.

“We found in this case there were plants from Central Europe. We found plants from Southeast Asia. There were also plants from the Mediterranean region. Maybe plants that were in Egypt, something that was available locally, like beeswax. And all of that was mixed in the balm “This mummification shows us how big or how connected ancient Egyptian society was in the middle of the second millennium,” continued Huber.

Some of the substances are more difficult to identify. Huber and his team believe they include resin from resin trees that only grow in Southeast Asia. If true, this would extend ancient Egyptian influence by 4,000 kilometers.

“This is a very limited plant and only grows in India, Indonesia, Southeast Asia. “If it is true that they used this substance, it means that the ancient Egyptians were able to get it from the eastern part of the world, bring it to Egypt, and mix it in the Senetnay mummification,” he explained.

To recreate the scent of Senetnay’s mummification balm, Huber went to French perfumer Carole Calvez in Paris. He chose one of the 20 formulas created.

“The journey through the past is complete because we opened the jar that the balm was in and now we can smell it. The way I would describe it, technically, it has a woody, resinous, balsamic, aldehyde aroma, very warm, and strong. “In terms of souvenirs, this reminds me of several times I went on holiday to Greece because one of the main ingredients is lentiscus pistacia, the pistachio tree,” continued Huber.

Museum visitors’ sense of smell has now been transported thousands of years into the past as part of a new exhibition at Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum. This exhibition explores the ancient Egyptian obsession with the afterlife.

Head of the museum’s Oriental Department, Steffen Terp Laursen, said, “The ancient Egyptians were not people who liked
death. They were fascinated by life, and especially the continuation of life and the fact that if life could continue after death, then life could continue both here and in the afterlife and among the gods.”

Terp Laursen says the reinvented scent opens a “portal” to the past. “We can keep telling new stories with the
same tools, but here we have the opportunity to open a kind of emotional portal to the past. “I hope this will bring people back to something that is now 4,000 years old,” he commented.

Huber and his colleagues’ research was published in the journal Scientific Reports on August 31. Meanwhile, the exhibition entitled ” Ancient Egypt – Obsessed with Life ” or “Ancient Egypt – Obsessed with Life” opened on October 13 at the Moesgaard Museum, and will run until August 18 2024. [ka/lt]

Source : VOA