Most people are familiar with Cleopatra—she ruled as queen of ancient Egypt from 51 to 30 B.C.E and is famously linked to Julius Caesar. While much of her life’s timeline is a mystery, there is one factoid about the pharaoh that scientists are close to unlocking: her favourite perfume.
While researchers have traditionally expressed great interest in the history of ancient cities, their studies have largely been centred around visible objects, like what those communities looked like based on excavated remains and uncovered personal objects. According to a report by ScienceNews, it hasn’t been until fairly recently that archaeologists have started to focus on scent, by smelling odour molecules from artefacts and reading ancient texts for references to perfume recipes.
How did scientists discover Cleopatra’s scent?
Years of work have gone into discovering Cleopatra’s signature scent. It started when archaeologists Robert Littman of the University of Hawaii and Jay Silverstein of the University of Tyumen uncovered the roughly 2,300-year-old remains of what is speculated to be a fragrance factory. The site, which the researchers began excavating in 2009, contains kilns and clay perfume containers, according to ScienceNews.
Following the discovery, Berlin-based Egyptologist, Dora Goldsmith, and Prague-based professor of Greek and Roman philosophy, Sean Coughlin, tried to re-create a beloved Egyptian fragrance known as the Mendesian perfume, which Cleopatra may have used. The experts experimented with ingredients like desert date oil, myrrh, cinnamon, and pine resin to produce a scent that the pharaoh likely wore. According to Goldsmith and Coughlin, the perfume is strong, but a pleasant blend of spiciness and sweetness.
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