Archaeologists found a bottle containing perfume residue in a Roman cemetery. What scents did people wear 2,000 years ago?
Ancient flask: Archaeologists have analyzed the nugget inside the flask.Image: Heritage
Perfume making is a complex matter. The interaction of different scents has fascinated people for a long time. After all, perfume is not a modern invention: people have used perfume mixtures since ancient times – for religious, medical and cosmetic reasons.
Archaeologists have now discovered, for the first time, the scent of ancient perfumes. For this purpose, the content of the bottle was analyzed, and researchers from the University of Cordoba, Spain, found it in an underground family mausoleum from Roman times.
The fragrance has been preserved for more than 2,000 years
Archaeologists estimate the crypt, located in the Andalusian town of Carmona, to be around 2,000 years old. In one of the urns, scientists found not only the ashes of a woman, a small cloth bag with organic remains and three amber beads, but also a bottle made of rock crystal.
The bottle was still corked and contained a nugget, archaeologists report in the journal Heritage. The plug was made of dolomite rock and bound with bitumen. In this way, the contents of the bottle can be preserved for more than 2,000 years.
Analysis of the mass showed that it is a mixture of bitumen, organic compounds of the sesquiterpene group, and vegetable oil residue. As archaeologist Daniel Cusano, who was involved in the study, explains, sesquiterpenes are oily plant essences responsible for the “top notes of the fragrance.”
The smell is still similar to the scent known today
These volatiles evaporate quickly, but the bitumen absorbs them and thus is preserved. A more detailed analysis finally revealed the fragrance: the sesquiterpenes detected in the bottle are similar to patchouli extracts.
Patchouli is a highly aromatic essential oil that is extracted from the leaves of a tropical plant of the genus Pogostemon cablin and is still used today in perfumery and flavoring products.
According to archaeologists, the Roman woman was buried with a bottle of patchouli perfume. The archaeologists concluded: “As far as we know, this may be the first time that a perfume has been identified from Roman times—a major advance in this field.”
- mdpi.com: “Archaeological identification of perfume from Roman times”
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