The scent of the 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummification balm has been recreated

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Scientists have deciphered an ancient scent by identifying ingredients used in Egyptian embalming ointments, and have revived the scent.

And those eager to get a taste of the past will be able to find what researchers have dubbed the “smell of eternity” during an upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Mosgaard Museum In Denmark.

Also called the “scent of eternal life,” the fragrance is based on beeswax, vegetable oils and tree resins from faraway lands that the team found inside a balm used more than 3,500 years ago to preserve Cenetnai, a noble woman whose remains were placed inside canopic urns. It was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1900.

This discovery reveals insights into Centenay’s social status as well as the methods used to preserve her remains and the importance of the balsam’s ingredients. A detailed study of the findings was published Thursday in the journal Scientific reports.

Barbara Huber, lead study author and doctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Medicine, said: “The mummification ingredients found in Cenetnay balm are among the most detailed and diverse ever identified for this period, revealing the meticulous care and sophistication with which they were developed. Create analgesics. Geogeology in Germany.

“The presence of such a wide range of ingredients, including exotic materials such as dimer or the resin of the pistachio tree, indicates that very rare and expensive materials were used in mummification,” Hooper added. “This indicates Sinetnai’s exceptional position in society.”

Little is known about Setenay, but previous research has established that she lived around 1450 BC and was a wet nurse to Pharaoh Amenhotep II, the long-awaited son and heir of Pharaoh Thutmose III. She took care of Amenhotep II and breastfed him as an infant.

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Cinetnai was given the title of “king’s ornament” according to historical records, and became an important member of the pharaoh’s court. After her death, Sentinel’s vital organs were embalmed and placed inside four canopic jars with lids shaped like human heads.

The Egyptians carefully removed organs such as the lungs, liver, stomach, and intestines during the mummification process to prevent bacterial growth and better preserve the body. According to the study, the Egyptians believed in the importance of preserving the body in the afterlife so that the human soul would have a place to return to.

After the mummification process, the jars were placed in a royal tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where they were found by Egyptologist Howard Carter in 1900. Cenetnay’s body was never recovered. (Carter was later credited with discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.)

The study notes that Senetnai’s inclusion in the Valley of the Kings, “a tomb usually reserved for pharaohs and powerful nobles,” indicates “the exceptional privilege, and great respect that Senetnai was likely held by the pharaoh.”

“This work provides an insight into the great efforts that the Egyptians put into their funerary practices, not only to the pharaohs, but also to other members of the community,” said study co-author Nicole Boivin, head of the research group at the Max Planck Institute for Geosciences. “But it also shows that Senetnay was an important figure, of importance beyond the simple description of her as the wet nurse of the future Pharaoh Amenhotep II.”

The two jars containing Centenary’s lungs and liver have been part of the Egyptian collection at the August Kestner Museum in Hanover, Germany, since 1935. They escaped destruction during World War II by being stored in a salt mine. The other two urns, which were not part of the study, are kept in collections elsewhere.

The contents long ago disappeared, but the researchers were able to scrape the inside of the jars to study the remains left behind by the dwelling as well as what seeped into the porous limestone of the jars.

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The exact recipes used for mummification have long been a matter of debate because ancient Egyptian texts do not mention the exact ingredients. The team began its research to identify the components of the balsam in 2021 using a variety of highly advanced analytical techniques. The dwelling differed little between the two jars, which means that different ingredients may have been used depending on which organ was preserved.

Perfumer Carole Calvez is in the process of recreating the scent of eternity.

The balm contains beeswax, vegetable oils, animal fats, natural petroleum products, bitumen and resins. Compounds such as coumarin and benzoic acid were also present. Coumarin, which has a vanilla-like odor, is found in pea and cinnamon plants. Benzoic acid is found in resins and gum extracted from trees and shrubs.

In the jar used to store Cenetnay’s lungs, the researchers discovered aromatic resins from pine trees and something either damar from trees found in India and Southeast Asia, or resin from pistachio trees belonging to the cashew family.

“The presence of certain components indicates that the Egyptians established long-distance trade routes and networks. Notable is the presence of pine tree resin – which originates from the northern Mediterranean and central Europe – and perhaps damar, a resin exclusive to the tropical forests of Southeast Asia. , confirms the wide extent of Egyptian trade routes during the middle of the second millennium BC.

Researchers are still working to confirm whether destruction is a component of it.

“If it is related to Dummar, it has come a shockingly long way, and this provides new insight into ancient trade networks,” Boivin said in an email. “Travel was very difficult, and large sea voyages were still relatively rare. It is unlikely that the Egyptians themselves went to these distant lands, but rather were part of networks of exchange linked to others. But these were the first stages of the globalized world in which we live today. .

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If destruction is confirmed as a component, the study authors said, it also indicates that the Egyptians had access to the resin nearly a millennium earlier than expected. Damura was recently identified as a component of mummification at Saqqara, and dates back to the first millennium BC.

The new findings suggest that the relatively complex palliatives used to preserve Cenetnae may have been the beginning of a trend towards the use of more elaborate palliatives later on.

After identifying the ingredients, the research team worked with French perfumer Carole Calvez and sensory museologist Sophia Colette-Erich to recreate the balm’s actual scent.

The meticulous process took months and multiple iterations before arriving at a historically accurate and evocative scent, Hooper said.

The resin of destruction, an ingredient in mummification, sits next to a bottle of an ancient fragrance that perfumer Carol Calvez has recreated based on scientific analyses.

“The first time I encountered the scent, it was a visceral, almost surreal experience,” she said. “After spending so much time researching and analyzing, it was interesting to finally have this tangible olfactory connection to the old world. It was like carrying a faint echo of the past.

She said the research team wanted to offer museum-goers a more immersive experience in the ancient world by incorporating an olfactory element while also making it accessible to visually impaired visitors. The “Scent of Eternal Life” will be part of an ancient Egyptian exhibition at the Danish Museum, which opens in October.

“The scent provides a unique and profound connection to the past, evoking a kind of time travel “This is intimate and evocative,” Hopper said. “By reintroducing this ancient scent, we aim to bridge the gap between then and now, allowing visitors to truly inhale a piece of antiquity.”

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