Cleopatra No 5? Scientists recreate ancient Egyptian queen's perfume

Tuesday 13th August 2019 11:00 BST

Myrrh is thought to have formed the basis of the fragrance deemed fit for the last queen of ancient Egypt, with the natural resin - one of three gifts offered to baby Jesus in the nativity - found in a number of thorny tree species spread across the Horn of Africa and the Arabian peninsula.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii mixed it with other ingredients including olive oil and cinnamon to achieve the final result, which was concocted following a decade-long excavation in the city of Thmuis.

Professors Robert Litman and Jay Silverstein found evidence of an ancient fragrance industry at the site, which had a vast complex of third century kilns - a type of oven.

It was there that ancient Egyptians are believed to have manufactured Mendesian and Metopian scents, which were bottled using clay imported from abroad and then using glass during a later Roman occupation.

The mission to recreate the more than 2,000-year-old perfume of Thmuis began when the professors started to analyse residue left within a number of amphora jars found in the suspected factory.

They approached German researchers and ancient Egyptian perfume experts Dora Goldsmith and Sean Coughlin, who recreated the perfume based on formulas found in Greek texts from the same era.

It turned out to be a far thicker and stickier substance than modern products, unlikely to be suitable for quick test spray on your next trip to Boots.

Mr Litman said: "What a thrill it is to smell a perfume that no one has smelled for 2,000 years and one which Cleopatra might have worn."

The research is yet another example of the enduring intrigue surrounding Cleopatra, whose legacy has endured through art, literature, theatre and even a Harper's Bazaar cover featuring Kim Kardashian.

Many will closely associate her with the 1963 Hollywood epic starring Elizabeth Taylor, which was the most expensive film of all-time when it was released.

Even if Cleopatra did not wear the perfume of Thmuis, it was likely used by at least some residents of the city.

Those keen to give it a whiff for themselves can do so at a National Geographic Society Queens of Egypt exhibit, running through to 15 September in Washington DC.

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