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Más de 3.400 años después de que dos antiguos egipcios fueran enterrados, las jarras de comida que se depositaron para alimentar sus almas eternas siguen oliendo a algo dulce. Un equipo de químicos analistas y arqueólogos ha analizado estos olores para ayudar a identificar el contenido de las jarras. El estudio muestra cómo la arqueología del olor puede enriquecer nuestra comprensión del pasado, y quizás hacer más inmersivas las visitas a los museos.

El descubrimiento en 1906 de la tumba intacta de Kha y Merit en la necrópolis de Deir el-Medina, cerca de Luxor, marcó un hito en la egiptología. La tumba de Kha -un “jefe de obras”, o un arquitecto- y Merit, su esposa, sigue siendo el enterramiento antiguo no real más completo que se ha encontrado en Egipto, y revela información importante sobre el trato que recibían los individuos de alto rango después de la muerte.

“Es una colección increíble”, afirma Ilaria Degano, química analítica de la Universidad de Pisa (Italia). “Entre los objetos, hay incluso ejemplos de la antigua ropa interior de lino egipcia de Kha, bordada con su nombre”.

De forma inusual para la época, el arqueólogo que descubrió la tumba se resistió a la tentación de desenvolver las momias o de mirar dentro de las ánforas, jarras y cántaros sellados que había, incluso después de que fueran trasladados al Museo Egipcio de Turín (Italia). El contenido de muchas de estas vasijas sigue siendo un misterio, aunque hay algunas pistas, dice Degano. “Al hablar con los conservadores, sabíamos que había algunos aromas afrutados en las vitrinas”, dice.

Análisis de olores
Degano y sus colegas colocaron varios objetos -incluidos frascos sellados y vasos abiertos cargados de restos podridos de alimentos antiguos- dentro de bolsas de plástico durante varios días para recoger algunas de las moléculas volátiles que aún desprenden. A continuación, el equipo utilizó un espectrómetro de masas para identificar los componentes de los aromas de cada muestra. Encontraron aldehídos e hidrocarburos de cadena larga, indicativos de la cera de abeja; trimetilamina, asociada al pescado seco, y otros aldehídos comunes en las frutas. “Dos tercios de los objetos dieron algún resultado”, dice Degano. “Fue una sorpresa muy agradable”.

Los hallazgos se incorporarán a un proyecto más amplio para volver a analizar el contenido de la tumba y producir una imagen más completa de las costumbres funerarias para los individuos no reales que existían cuando murieron Kha y Merit, unos 70 años antes de que Tutankamón llegara al trono.

No es la primera vez que los compuestos aromáticos revelan información importante sobre el antiguo Egipto. En 2014, los investigadores extrajeron moléculas volátiles de vendas de lino de entre 6.300 y 5.000 años de antigüedad que se utilizaban para envolver los cuerpos en algunos de los primeros cementerios egipcios conocidos. Las moléculas confirmaron la presencia de agentes embalsamadores con propiedades antibacterianas, lo que demuestra que los egipcios experimentaban con la momificación unos 1.500 años antes de lo que se pensaba.

El análisis de aromas sigue siendo un área poco explorada de la arqueología, dice Stephen Buckley, arqueólogo y químico analítico de la Universidad de York (Reino Unido), que participó en el estudio de 2014. “Los volátiles han sido ignorados por los arqueólogos debido a la creencia de que habrían desaparecido de los objetos”, afirma. Pero “si quieres entender a los antiguos egipcios, realmente quieres adentrarte en ese mundo olfativo”.

Por ejemplo, el incienso de olor dulce derivado de las resinas aromáticas fue esencial para los antiguos egipcios. “El incienso fue necesario para las ceremonias del templo y para algunos rituales mortuorios”, dice Kathryn Bard, arqueóloga de la Universidad de Boston, en Massachusetts. Como los árboles productores de resina no crecían en Egipto, esto obligaba a realizar ambiciosas expediciones a larga distancia para obtener suministros.

Exposiciones enriquecidas
Además de revelar más sobre las civilizaciones del pasado, los olores antiguos podrían añadir una dimensión a la experiencia del visitante en los museos. “El olor es una puerta relativamente inexplorada al pasado colectivo”, afirma Cecilia Bembibre, del University College de Londres. “Tiene el potencial de [permitirnos] experimentar el pasado de una manera más emocional y personal”.

Pero reconstruir los olores antiguos no es fácil, dice Bembibre. La degradación y la descomposición pueden ser un asunto maloliente, por lo que los olores de un artículo actual no tienen por qué coincidir con lo que Bembibre llama el “paisaje olfativo” original de una tumba.

Con el conocimiento y la comprensión adecuados, debería ser posible separar los olores originales de los de la descomposición, dice Buckley. Todavía está en discusión si los visitantes querrán experimentar el paisaje olfativo completo y potencialmente desagradable de una tumba antigua. “Los conservadores podrían dar a la gente la posibilidad de elegir hasta dónde quieren llevar la experiencia olfativa”, dice Buckley.

Fuente original: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00903-zhttps://www.critica.com.pa/vida/expertos-logran-oler-el-contenido-de-antiguas-anforas-egipcias-626334

https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/4/114572/Analytical-chemists-archaeologists-aim-to-recreate-scents-in-ancient-Egyptian

www.unipi.it/index.php/news/item/23328-rivelato-il-contenuto-di-vasi-e-anfore-della-tomba-di-kha-e-merit-al-museo-egizio-di-torino

Polémica suscitada: ver EEF (Dora Goldsmith)

Review of La Nasa, J., Degano, I., Modugno, F., Guerrini, C., Facchetti, F., Turina, V., Carretta, A., Greco, C., Ferraris, E., Colombini, M.P. and Ribechini, E. (2022), Archaeology of the Invisible: The Scent of Kha and Merit, *Journal of Archaeological Science* 141, pp. 1-14.

Dear colleagues,

I was asked by the journalist Bruce Bower from Science News to write a review on the recently published article “Archaeology of the Invisible: The Scent of Kha and Merit”. Olfactory art historian Caro Verbeek (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) also reached out for comment, so I am sharing my review here as well. This letter was written with no personal animosity toward the authors of the above entitled paper, but with the desire to both maintain the high standards of modern Egyptological research and ensure the dissemination of accurate research to members of the academic community and beyond. I hope you find these comments helpful.

Several media outlets have reported that scientists have reconstructed the smellscape of the 18th Dynasty tomb of Kha and Merit (TT8). However, upon reading the article entitled “Archaeology of the Invisible: The Scent of Kha and Merit”, published in the latest edition of Journal of Archaeological Science, it becomes clear that the article is merely a description of the potential the technology SIFT-MS can offer for the analysis of organic residues, and does not give any insight into the olfactory heritage of the tomb of Kha and Merit. There are two ways of reconstructing the smellscapes of an ancient environment:

with the help of archaeological evidence or surviving written sources. Both approaches have their advantages and disadvantages. By looking at the written documents, one has the advantage of gaining insight into the odor perceptions of the ancients – their judgements, emotions, and associated meanings.

Nevertheless, one must be aware of the fact that the textual record represents what the literate elite deliberately chose to discuss, and as a result, it might not reflect the odor perceptions of the entire society.

When employing archaeological evidence to reconstruct ancient smellscapes, we are missing the so-called “period nose”, but we might find invaluable pieces of information that are not mentioned in the texts.

(For a detailed description of the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches, see my article “Smellscapes in ancient Egypt” in the Routledge Handbook of the Senses.)

Chemical analyses of organic residues, such as the non-destructive SIFT-MS method used by the authors, have enormous potential to reveal information about the olfactory heritage of ancient Egyptian society. However, two requirements need to be fulfilled: (1) sealed jars need to opened; (2) researchers must have some luck.

Due to the internal museum regulations of the Museo Egizio in Turin, the team of chemists carrying out the analyses did not have permission to open sealed jars.

Unfortunately, most of the jars from the tomb of Kha and Merit were hermetically sealed with linen cloth, thus their contents were not available. By putting the sealed opening of the vessels in a plastic bag and carrying out a chemical analysis, the researchers only chemically analyzed the linen cloth and modern residues on the jars. While I understand the reason why the contents of the jars were not available for analysis, the chemical analysis of a linen stopper is not what’s exciting about an ancient perfume jar. It is the chemical analysis of the perfume residues themselves that further Egyptological research and the scientific community.

It seems that the chemists did have the opportunity to carry out chemical analyses on a small number of already opened jars. However, in these cases luck was not on their side: the volatile components that would have enabled the precise identification of odor compounds did not survive or were never there. For example, in the case of the amphora S.8526, the authors themselves claim that the chemical compounds present are not conclusive enough for the identification of styrax in the sample (pp. 8 and Fig. 4.).

Thus, the authors are left with the following extremely general results: the jars contain “oils or fats” , “beeswax” or “non-specific” (Fig. 3.).

Should we be really surprised that ancient Egyptian perfumes contained oil, fat and beeswax? That ancient Egyptian perfumes contained oils, fats and beeswax is something that we have known since the beginning of Egyptology.

It was the perfume ingredients that made ancient Egyptian perfumes fragrant. Vegetable oils, animal fat and beeswax functioned as base materials in ancient Egyptian perfumery, and  have a very faint smell, if any at all. Common perfume ingredients were myrrh (*Commiphora* spp.), styrax resin and bark (*Styrax* and *Liquidambar* spp.), camphor bark

(*Ocotea* spp.), mastic (*Pistacia* spp.), cedar resin and bark (*Cedrus* spp.), juniper berries and bark

(*Juniperus* spp.), pine resin and bark (*Pinus* spp.), frankincense (*Boswellia* spp.), and nutgrass (*Cyperus* spp.), just to name a few. The perfumers (called nwd “cook” in

Egyptian) perfumed the vegetable oil, animal fat and/or beeswax with resins, barks, berries, grasses and rhizomes through cooking, producing strongly scented ointments. My reconstruction of several ancient Egyptian perfumes based on their hieroglyphic and hieratic recipes have all produced very strong scents. Consequently, I find it troubling that the authors decided to give their paper the title “The Scent of Kha and Merit”. Their analyses did not detect any scents.

In the tomb of Kha of Merit, floral creations and food supplies would have been another source of smells. As a matter of fact, the authors managed to detect one smell in this regard: that of fish in the bowl S.8321 (pp. 9).

Surprisingly, even though their article claims to be about scents, they failed to mention the significance of the stench of fish in ancient Egypt.

In my article “Fish, fowl and stench in ancient Egypt”, published in 2019, I discuss the utmost importance of the stench of fish for ancient Egyptian society. Fish was the prototype of stench. Every word related to foul odors was classified with a fish classifier. Fish was associated with the enemy and the god of evil, Seth, who was seen as the source of all stinking things.

Furthermore, I would like to highlight a few methodological issues in the article. On pp. 11, the authors claim that the materials identified in the bowls “were in agreement with the ingredients to produce hair ointments, as reported by Dioscorides”. Employing Greek and Latin sources to make statements about the olfactory culture of the ancient Egyptians in the 18th Dynasty, as done by Manniche in the book “Sacred Luxuries” published in 1999, is an inaccurate approach that leads to misinformation. There are several ancient Egyptians perfume recipes written in hieroglyphic and hieratic script and these recipes provide a wealth of information on ancient Egyptian perfumery. (For a discussion of many of these recipes, see my upcoming doctoral

dissertation.) It is impossible to gather accurate information using classical sources written hundreds, or even thousands, of years later by representatives of another culture with limited knowledge of ancient Egyptian perfumes.

A close look at Greek descriptions of Egyptian perfumes reveals that while the Greeks did have some core knowledge of ancient Egyptian perfumery, they treated the original ingredients with great flexibility, freely changing many to ingredients available at their time. (For more information on this topic, see my article entitled “Eau de Cleopatra:

Mendesian Perfume and Tell Timai” published in 2021.) All currently available data considered, the Greek knowledge of Egyptian perfume recipes and the cultural significance of Egyptian perfumes seems quite limited. Thus, I would like to call for caution with utilizing classical sources for making statements about the olfactory culture of the Egyptians, especially in the 18th Dynasty.

Another methodological issue involves a group of alabaster vessels described as “seven sacred oils” by the authors on pp. 12. Based on the article, these vessels are not inscribed with the names of the so-called “seven sacred oils”.

Unfortunately, without a label on the jar, one cannot possibly know what the contents were. (Even if the jars are labeled, one must consider the option of secondary use.) There were countless other perfumes and fragrant remedies in ancient Egypt that were not included in the group of the “seven sacred oils”. The names of many of these perfumes have survived, even if their recipes have not. Thus, one must be very cautious with interpreting a group of finds as the “seven sacred oils” without any labels on the jars.

Additionally, in the New Kingdom, the number of the sacred perfumes had already increased to ten. Hence, one should be speaking of and expecting “ten sacred oils” from as early as the 18th Dynasty.

Best wishes,

*Dora Goldsmith* PhD researcher, Freie Universität Berlin, Egyptology Seminar

Title of dissertation: “The Archaeology of Smell in Ancient Egypt. A Cultural Anthropological Study Based on Written Sources”

Areas of expertise: sense of smell in ancient Egypt, smellscapes in ancient Egypt, ancient Egyptian perfumery, reconstruction of ancient Egyptian smellscapes and perfumes, archaeology of smell, sensory archaeology, experimental archaeology

Bibliography:

Dora Goldsmith (2022), Smellscapes in Ancient Egypt, in:

Kiersten Neumann and Allison Thomason (eds.), *The Routledge Handbook of the Senses in the Ancient Near East*, Abingdon; New York: Routledge, pp. 636-662.

Robert J. Littman, Jay Silverstein, Dora Goldsmith, Sean Coughlin and Hamedy Mashaly (2021), Eau de Cleopatra:

Mendesian Perfume and Tell Timai, *Near Eastern Archaeology 84.3*, pp. 216-229.

Dora Goldsmith (2019), The Smell of Mummification, in:

Ryuji Shikaku (ed.), *Mummies and Gods: Afterlife in Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia*, Okayama: Okayama Orient Museum, pp. 18-23.

Dora Goldsmith (2019), Fish, Fowl, and Stench in Ancient Egypt, in: Annette Schellenberg and Thomas Krüger (eds.), *Sounding Sensory Profiles in the Ancient Near East, Ancient Near East Monographs 25*, Atlanta, GA: SBL Press, pp. 335-360.