Scientists re-create what mummies smell like: ‘The scent of eternity’

Scientists re-create what mummies smell like: ‘The scent of eternity’


It was kept under wraps for thousands of years.

Scientists have managed to identify and re-create the scent of a tincture used in an elaborate mummification of a noblewoman of ancient Egypt circa 1450 BCE.

The not-so-gnarly balm was made of “beeswax, plant oil, fats, bitumen, Pinaceae resins, a balsamic substance, and dammar or Pistacia tree resin,” according to the study, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports.

The ersatz potpourri was used in preserving high-ranking Senetnay, a wet nurse, also given the title Ornament of the King, for pharaoh Amenhotep II.

The smell of the ancient figure, whose mummy has been remarkably well-kept, is re-engineered and will be on display in the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark this fall, the Guardian reported, and is calling it “the scent of the eternity.” A model jar inscribed for Senetnay is already on display at the Met.

“These are the richest, most complex balms yet identified for this early time period,” the researchers wrote.


Remains from ancient Egyptian nobility, Senetnay, have been recreated for display this fall.
A balm used in mummifying ancient Egyptian noble Senetnay has been re-created for display this fall.
Christian Tepper/Museum August Kestner

“They highlight both the exceptional status of Senetnay and the myriad trade connections of the Egyptians in the second millennium BCE,” they added, noting that some ingredients came from Central Europe.

Her canopic jars — which contained Senetnay’s mummified organs, which were given especially high-priority treatment — were discovered in the royal tomb King’s Valley 42 in 1900 in modern-day Luxor, Egypt.

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The remains had been found by Howard Carter, the archeologist who rose to fame for his part in locating the tomb of Tutankhamun.

Researchers were able to re-create the scents from only a “thin layer of organic residue” that remained at the bottom of the empty jars.

It was also learned that different scents were used to embalm people according to their role in society.


Scientists have recreated the scent of mummifications upon remains left in a woman of high Egyptian nobility.
Scientists have re-created the scent of mummifications using the remains left of a woman of high Egyptian nobility.
Courtesy Carole Calvez

“To our noses, the warm, resinous, pine-like odors of larch might be more reminiscent of cleaning products, and the sulfurous scent of bitumen might put us in mind of asphalt,” William Tullett, an expert on sensory history and a lecturer at the University of York, told the Guardian.

“But for Egyptians, these smells clearly had a host of other meanings related to spirituality and social status.”



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