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Scientists recreate the scent of a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy

A unique discovery.

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Scientists recreate the scent of a 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummy

A unique discovery. Barbara Huber, researcher at the Max Planck Anthropological Institute in Germany, and her team of scientists have just recreated the smell of a 3,500-year-old mummy, reports the journal Scientific Reports. Beeswax, vegetable oils and tree resins... The curious will soon be able to discover this “perfume of eternity” on October 13, 2023 at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark.

In order to recreate these smells, the researchers, accompanied by the French perfumer Carole Calvez, analyzed the residues of balms - used during the mummification process to preserve the remains - taken from canopic jars containing Senetnay's mummified liver and lungs, a noblewoman who lived under the 18th dynasty of Egypt. “The scent of eternity is so much more than the aroma of the mummification process. It embodies the rich cultural, historical and spiritual significance of ancient Egyptian mortuary practices,” Barbara Huber said in a statement. The embalming ingredients found in Senetnay balms are among the most elaborate and diverse ever identified for this period, revealing the meticulous care and sophistication with which these balms were created.

These balms, once used to preserve Senetnay's body, are composed of rare substances that were difficult to access at the time. The study of these mixtures reveals a mixture of vegetable oils, fat, beeswax, bitumen (a petroleum derivative used since the Paleolithic), pine resin, dammar or pistachio resin and larch resin. The presence of these components testifies in particular to the very long distance trade carried out by the Egyptians 1450 years BC.

"These complex and diverse ingredients, unique to this ancient period, offer a new understanding of Egypt's sophisticated mummification practices and vast trade routes," says Christian E. Loeben, Egyptologist and curator of the August Kestner Museum, from where the vases come from. Larch resin comes from the northern Mediterranean and central Europe. Dammar resin, if its presence is confirmed in balms, is found in the tropical forests of Southeast Asia.

Considering the precious ingredients used during the mummification process, scientists recognize the high status that Senetnay had in Egyptian society. The woman was married to Sennefer, mayor of Thebes, and was also the wet nurse of Amenhotep II, seventh pharaoh of the 18th dynasty of Egypt. The noblewoman's tomb was discovered over a century ago by Howard Carter in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.

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