The scent of eternity

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology in Germany have recreated the smell of the mummification balm used on the noblewoman Senetnay, wet nurse to Amenhotep II. The team used gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, and other techniques to analyse the residue of balm found in two of Senetay’s canopic jars, and discovered a mix of beeswax, bitumen, fats and oils, tree resins, and plant substances (including coumarin, which has a similar smell to vanilla), many of which were not native to Egypt. Working with a perfumier, the team have recreated the scent, which they have called ‘Scent of Eternity’. It can be smelt by visitors to the Ancient Egypt – obsessed with Life exhibition at the Moesgaard Museum in Denmark this autumn.

The canopic jar of Senetnay, source of the re-created ‘Scent of Eternity’. Image: Museum August Kestner, Hannover/Christian Tepper