Scientists find ways to study and reconstruct past scents
Apr 2022, phys.org
They're trying to develop "an archaeology of scent," which is hard because smells are ephemeral, and last only as long as their source. But because of advances in chromatography, mass spectrometry, sequencing technologies and modern bioinformatics, which include metabolomics, proteomics and genomics; they can identify the organic remains preserved on surfaces like walls, ceramic vessels, incense burners, perfume flasks, cooking pots, dental calculus, mummies, and entire streets:
Advanced biomolecular and ‘omics’ sciences enable more direct insights into past scents, offering new options to explore critical aspects of ancient society and lifeways as well as the historical meanings of smell.
The whole paper is very interesting, and although I encourage anyone interested in ancient history to read it, for those who don't, I bring back only this -- palaeofaeces -- it's a thing in archaeology, and now in olfactory archaeology too: "in an Iron Age roundhouse in Scotland, chemical characterization of floor sediments provided insight into living conditions, hygiene practices and the temporary sheltering of animals in human living areas during this period."
-Mackay, H. et al. J. Archaeol. Sci. 121, 105202 (2020). [pdf]
via the Department of Archaeology at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany: Huber, B., Larsen, T., Spengler, R.N. et al. How to use modern science to reconstruct ancient scents. Nat Hum Behav 6, 611–614 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01325-7
Image credit: AI Art - Animals in Jars - 2022
via James Gilleard and Justin Gerard
Speaking of human history, the Odeuropa project is taking a completely different angle -- they use computer science to identify, scrape, and coordinate pictures that contain smells in them, either by visually recognizing objects tagged as related to smells, or by reading the text captioned with the image. Sensory mining they call it:
Odeuropa is a European research project which bundles expertise in sensory mining and olfactory heritage. We develop novel methods to collect information about smell from (digital) text and image collections.