What did they smell like in the ancient world?
Always on the lookout for the curious and interesting, I came across this article in National Geographic. Have you ever wondered how people in the ancient world kept from being on the nose without all our modern day accoutrements like roll-on deodorants and spray on perfumes?
Wonder no more – Italian archaeologists, nosing around on the island of Cyprus, have just announced they have discovered the world’s oldest known perfumes. In a marvellous piece of sychronicity, Cyprus is of course reputed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, lust and beauty. And perfume of course is closely linked to romance and love.
Remnants of the perfumes were found inside a 3,230m² factory that was part of a larger industrial complex at Pyrgos. An earthquake in 1850 BC shook the factory to the ground, but perfume bottles, mixing jugs and perfume stills were preserved under the collapsed walls.
As someone who has always been on the hunt for that ‘Arabian nights”-style heavy perfume oil that conjures up images of romantic desert nights under the stars (never found BTW: so if you know of one, leave me a comment!) – I was intrigued to know what were the ingredients used to concoct the perfumes.
The team of archaeologists whiffed the perfume remnants and made a study of the remains of the mixing jugs and identified 14 fragrances native to the Mediterranean region used in the perfume production.They found the ancient perfumers used extracts of anise, pine, coriander, bergamot, almond and parsley (not sure about the parsley bit!). They also discovered four fragrance recipes (I sure hope they get clever and find a commercial partner to market them).
The perfumes have now been recreated using techniques described by Pliny the Elder in his writings, which include grinding plants and herbs and mixing these with olive oil, then distilling in a clay apparatus. Lead archaeologist, Maria Rosaria Belgiorno of the National Research Council in Rome, certainly had it right when she said today’s fragrances just don’t compare to the ancient perfume oils: “We have lost the real world of natural fragrances,” she said, “because most of the perfumes of today are chemical reproductions of the natural fragrances and scents.”
Frankly, seems to me we’ve lost a lot in this world, not just the scent of classical perfumes.