Ancient Egyptian Mummification Aroma Revived

September 10, 2023
A photograph of an ancient Egyptian mummy and sarcophagus. Yayimages.

Scientists have painstakingly recreated the mummification scent used over 3,500 years ago.

For the first time, visitors to Denmark’s Moesgaard Museum will be able to experience the past not only through sight but smell. An interdisciplinary team led by Barbara Huber at the MPI of Geoanthropology has painstakingly recreated the mummification scent used over 3,500 years ago, labeled as “the scent of eternity.”

Scent of the afterlife': mummifying balm from ancient Egypt recreated

Unlocking Secrets of the 18th Dynasty

Diving deep into ancient Egypt, the researchers focused on the preservation materials of noblewoman Senetnay from around 1450 BCE. Advanced technologies like gas chromatography-mass spectrometry played a pivotal role in deciphering the substances used, as detailed in their study in Scientific Reports.

A newly resurrected ancient smell may help reveal the life of a woman  entombed with pharaohs | News | albanyherald.com

Huber elaborates, “Intriguingly, our analysis of balm residues from Senetnay’s mummification equipment – discovered over a century ago in the Valley of the Kings – sheds light on complex ingredients.” These treasures, now at the Museum August Kestner in Hannover, comprised a blend including beeswax, plant oil, and Pinaceae resins.

Christian E. Loeben, an Egyptologist at the Museum August Kestner, adds, “This intricate concoction not only underscores ancient mummification sophistication but also ancient Egypt’s expansive trade networks.”

A Journey Beyond Egypt’s Borders

The balms’ composition indicates Egypt’s vast trade routes during the 2nd millennium BCE. Prof. Nicole Boivin emphasizes the importance of these findings, “The diversity of the ingredients showcases Egypt’s early external trade relations and underlines Senetnay’s prominence in the pharaoh’s court.”

Foreign elements like Mediterranean-sourced larch tree resin and potential dammars from Southeast Asian tropical forests point towards early and widespread trade connections.

The Olfactory Experience

French perfumer Carole Calvez and sensory museologist Sofia Collette Ehrich recreated the mummification scent based on the researchers’ insights. Huber asserts that “the scent of eternity” symbolizes much more than a mere fragrance—it encapsulates the profound spiritual, historical, and cultural aspects of Ancient Egyptian funerary customs.

By introducing this scent, the Moesgaard Museum intends to deliver an immersive experience, letting visitors engage with history in an unprecedented olfactory manner, bringing ancient Egyptian mysticism alive.

Furthermore, this innovative approach caters to the visually impaired, offering an inclusive experience that delves deep into Egypt’s majestic past.

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