Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Four Thousand Year Old Perfumery

Pyrgos/Mavroraki is an archaeology site in the Limassol district of Cyprus, spanning from 2350BC to 1850BC. The mission’s head archaeologist, Professor Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, who works for Italy’s National Research Council, excavated the site with her team, starting in 2005.

The site, an early Bronze Age industrial complex that produced wine, perfumes and textiles dyed with purple or blue indigo, also includes remains of a palace from the early Bronze Age.

Belgiorno and her team have also painstakingly researched and recreated the 4,000 year old fragrances from residues found at the site perfumery. Belgiorno's recent book entitled Aromata Cipria, (Cyprus Perfumes), describes the process used for her perfume experiments that she conducted at the Antiquities Centre in Italy.

For each of the four perfumes recreated by Belgiorno and her team, the process took about five days and the mixture was enclosed in a jug buried under the sand in the sunlight at a temperature of no more than 50 degrees, to avoid damaging the mixture. The four scents produced are ‘Afrodite,’ ‘Elena,’ ‘Artemides’ and ‘Era.’ ‘Afrodite’ contains olive oil, pine, turpentine and bergamot. ‘Elena’ has scents of olive oil, laurel, coriander and turpentine. In ‘Artemides,’ almonds, myrtle, parsley and turpentine are used and, for ‘Era,’ olive oil, rosemary, green anise and lavender.

“For the essences, we copied the entire process, step by step, as was done, 4,000 years ago, putting the essences into a closed jug underground, in the sunlight for five days. But the entire process for the four different essences took about six months, because we had to wait for the seasonal essences to come out of the herbs,” Belgiorno said.

Olive oil was the basic ingredient for making medicaments, cosmetics, perfumes and soft textiles.
Regarding ancient methods used to make perfumes, Belgiorno also notes: “It is possible to extract essential oils and perfumed waters with the same system, as during boiling, the terpenes - tiny particles of fragrant plants, transported by vapour - pass the alembic head into a collecting jar. At the end of the operation, the essential oils float on the water surface and it is easy to separate them from the water.” The procedure, she adds, appears simple for a modern point of view but in the third millennium BC, it was different. The distillation methodology should follow serious rules including the system and duration of boiling, and cooling as the final stage.

“The vase used at Pyrgos as a condenser, was probably one of the large metallic ware jugs, whose neck shape and dimension is correct to contain the alembic spout and the base perfect to say inside a water basin. Six jugs of this type and dimension, all crushed, have been found in the Pyrgos perfumery: three were on the bench running along the eastern wall, two among the pits for maceration and one in north west corner, where there were two alembic heads and two large basins. “The experiments made to reconstruct the apparatus confirm that the shape and dimensions of the jugs are correct not only to be used as condensers but also as boilers (going inside the alembic head) which find a perfect support on the jug shoulders,” said Belgiorno.

Describing the process used by her team of archaeologists and scientists for copying the ancient perfumes, Belgiorno said: “In our experiment, we found that direct contact between the jug and the embers quickly raised the temperature in the liquid. Using a thermocouple to calculate the temperature inside the jug, 15 minutes after the start of the heat treatment, we found that it was 84C. This is rather high. Based on the literature, 55C was the right temperature for extracting essences. Thanks to a mistake in our procedure for making fragrant essences, we were able to see how hard it is to maintain the jug temperature constant from the outset.”

Update Posted 5/9/09
From Perfumer & Flavorist Magazine, March 2007 Issue:
Archaeologists have recently discovered the world's oldest perfumes in Pyrgos, Cyprus. The remaining traces of perfumes, dating back more than 4,000 years, were scented with extracts of lavender, bay, rosemary, pine or coriander and kept in small translucent alabaster bottles. Just as intriguing as the scents they found was where the archaeologists found them—a 43,000 square foot perfumery factory. There they found at least 60 distilling stills, mixing bowls, funnels and perfume bottles. The discoveries are on display at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. In addition, an Italian foundation has recreated four of the perfumes from residues found at the site.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fragranced Interregnum

The following Universität Bonn press release was on the newswires this morning:

What Scents did the Ancient Egyptians use?

Researchers in Bonn aim to recreate a 3,500-year-old scent

The Ancient Egyptians cherished their fragrant scents, too, as perfume flacons from this period indicate. In its permanent exhibition, Bonn University´s Egyptian Museum has a particularly well preserved example on display. Screening this 3,500-year-old flacon with a computer tomograph, scientists at the university detected the desiccated residues of a fluid, which they now want to submit to further analysis. They might even succeed in reconstructing this scent, which would be a worldwide sensation.

Pharaoh Hatshepsut was a power-conscious woman who assumed the reins of government in Egypt around the year 1479 B.C. In actual fact, she was only supposed to represent her step-son Thutmose III, who was three years old at the time, until he was old enough to take over. But the interregnum lasted 20 years. She systematically kept Thutmose out of power, says Michael Höveler-Müller, the curator of Bonn University´s Egyptian Museum. Hatshepsut´s perfume is also presumably a demonstration of her power. We think it probable that one constituent was incense, the scent of the gods, Michael Höveler-Müller declares. This idea is not so wide of the mark, as it is a known fact that in the course of her regency Haptshepsut undertook an expedition to Punt, the modern Eritrea, and the Egyptians had been importing precious goods such as ebony, ivory, gold, and just this incense, from there since the third millennium B.C. Apparently the expedition brought back whole incense plants, which Hatshepsut then had planted in the vicinity of her funerary temple.

World Premier with an interesting result

The filigree flacon now under examination by the researchers in Bonn bears an inscription with the name of the Pharaoh. Hence it was probably once in her possession. The vessel is exceptionally well preserved. So we considered it might be rewarding to have it screened in the University Clinic´s Radiology Department, Höveler-Müller explains. “As far as I know this has never been done before. This world premier will now in all probability be followed by another one: The desiccated residues of a fluid can be clearly discerned in the x-ray photographs, the museum´s curator explains. Our pharmacologists are now going to analyse this sediment. The results could be available in a good year´s time. If they are successful, the scientists in Bonn are even hoping to reconstruct”the perfume so that, 3,500 years after the death of the woman amongst whose possessions it was found, the scent could then be revitalised.

Hatshepsut died in 1457 B.C. Analysis of the mummy ascribed to her showed that the ruler was apparently between 45 and 60 years of age at the end of her life; that she was also overweight, and suffering from diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis and arthritis. Obviously for reasons of security, she was laid to rest in the tomb of her wet nurse.

In 1903, over 3,300 years later, the famous Egyptologist Howard Carter stumbled upon the two mummies. However, more than 100 years were to pass before the Pharaoh´s corpse could be identified using DNA and dental analysis in the year 2007. Thutmose III, incidentally, appears not to have shed a single tear for his step-mother, as during his reign he had every image destroyed which showed her as ruler, and which could have belonged to her. (Source of this article listed at bottom of page.)

In my next post I will explore other concurrent perfumes existing in the timeframe of 1457 B.C., thirty-five thousand (!) years ago. Meahwhile, here is a place to learn and see more of this amazing woman:
Images related to this press release may be viewed in the Internet under >> Aktuelles >> Presseinformationen.
Contact:Michael Höveler-MüllerÄgyptisches Museum der Universität Bonn
Telephone: 0228/73-9710

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Violin Maker's Shop

My colleague, friend and mentor Lisa Camasi and I recently collaborated in the production of an interpretive fragrance for an architectural installation at in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The project required the delivery of a very specific olfactory experience - invoking a comfortable, cozy old library where one sips hot black tea, smokes aromatic tobacco in a well-seasoned pipe, and is subtly aware of the fragrance emanations of the nearby violin maker's studio.

We met Erika Jacons Lord as she was finishing her Masters degree in interior architecture in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Erika's research and inspiration for this project came from the French philosopher Deleuze and his notion of smooth and striated space. Inspired by the implications for architecture, her design focused on using all of the senses in the creation of spaces, and called for the specific above-mentioned scents in the study/library of the apartment she was redesigning.

"Shelley and Lisa jumped in when I needed the help in a very short timeframe and helped me figure out how the scents should be built. They researched what constitutes the scents which so fascinated me, and quickly and professionally created and sent samples to me via international mail. It was a joy to receive their work, because they were able to recreate the scents I had been only dreaming about. I appreciate their attention to detail and sensitivity in building the scents and their use of organic, hard to find ingredients. The quality and level of the finished product far exceeded my expectations."

Erika Jacobs Lord
Interior Architect