Researchers Reconstruct Past Scents From Historical Records


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Science News

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany, carried out a series of experiments to reconstruct ancient scents from historical records and archaeological remains. The study about sensory history is published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The Study

To reconstruct how ancient societies would have smelled like, the researchers combined proteomic and metabolomics techniques with historical annals. They also linked new data with information from ancient texts, visual depictions, and broader archaeological and environmental records. They studied smells from the past (related to ritual, perfumery, hygiene, cuisine, trade, and commerce) and discussed the importance of scent in shaping human experiences and perceptions of the world.

Smells like ancient society

According to the researchers, the sense of smell is a significant cornerstone of human evolution. It also dramatically changes with our changing societies and cultures. By understanding how the smelling sense has evolved through the ages, they can gain insight into the general aspects and realities of the past. These include social hierarchies, social behavior, group practices and identities, and the overlooked connections between olfaction and mental and physical health.

One of the lead researchers, Barbara Huber, elaborated, “[Thanks to the study], novel methods are revealing the powerful odors that were a cardinal feature of ancient lived realities, and that shaped human action, thoughts, emotions and memories.”

To Know More You May Refer To

Huber, B., Larsen, T., Spengler, R.N. et al. How to use modern science to reconstruct ancient scents. Nat Hum Behav (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01325-7

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