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The Ancient Scent: 1,000-Year-Old Perfume Shop Discovered In Turkey

The Ancient Scent: 1,000-Year-Old Perfume Shop Discovered In Turkey

Perfumes have come a long way from their origins. While most contemporary scents are produced from synthetic materials, the original fragrances were a combination of plant or animal products and rich oils. Today, archaeologists continue to find evidence of perfume’s use throughout the ancient world. One of those discoveries is made recently in South Eastern Turkey.

A group of archaeologists in Turkey’s southeastern Şanlıurfa province has discovered a 1,000-year-old ancient perfume store and various perfume bottles, shedding light to the history of scents in Mesopotamian lands.

The discovery was made in Şanlıurfa’s famous Harran Archaeological Site, which was home to a major ancient city in Upper Mesopotamian region. With its vast history dating back nearly 5,000 years, Harran is a popular site for tourists and archaeologists. It hosted various civilizations, including the Assyrians, Hittites, Umayyads, Persians and more.

The Ancient Scent: 1,000-Year-Old Perfume Shop Discovered In TurkeyHarran Archaeological Site. AA Photo

Lead excavator Professor Mehmet Önal said that they are “working with utmost care” to reveal the potential of the excavation site.

He noted that the discovery indicates how much ancient peoples valued cleanliness and pleasant scents.

The perfume bottles were discovered near the bathroom, the mosque and the marketplace, which could mean that people used the scents after they cleaned themselves, Professor Önal said, adding that they were made out of clay and the outer surface of the bottles have floral, braid and other patterns.

Önal also noted that they also believe the perfumes were produced at the site.

The Ancient Scent: 1,000-Year-Old Perfume Shop Discovered In TurkeyThe Perfume Maker. Painting of Rudolf Ernst

Where Did Perfume Come From?

Perfumes and fragrances can be traced to multiple ancient cultures, most notably to the ancient Egyptian civilization. In fact, Egyptians associated their perfumes with the gods: The fragrances were considered to be the sweat of the sun god, Ra. Given the influences of ancient Egypt on the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, the use of scents spread throughout the ancient world. Other ancient cultures, such as ancient Iranians and the ancient Chinese, also prized fragrances, though the Chinese used scent in the form of incense instead of perfumes to be worn.

What Was In Ancient Perfume?

Ancient perfume varied in many respects from modern fragrances. In ancient Egypt, frankincense, opopanax, and myrhh were used. Throughout ancient Africa, various scented oils were used as sun protection as well as for their smell. In Mesopotamia and Babylonia, favored scents included cedar, myrrh, frankincense, and cypress. Generally, oils were used as the “carriers” or fluids to take on the strong scents. In modern times, alcohol is usually used as a carrier. Most of the substances that were the source of scents were plant-based, ranging from flowers to resins and woods.

The Ancient Scent: 1,000-Year-Old Perfume Shop Discovered In TurkeyThe making of lily perfume, fragment from the decoration of a tomb, ancient Egypt

Why Was Perfume Used?

One purpose of perfume has remained the same, from ancient times to the present: Ancient populations were likewise attracted to appealing smells. In ancient Egypt, cleanliness was highly valued, and it was common to bathe daily or after each meal. Perfume was a further way of cleansing oneself. In ancient Greece, wearing a sweet-smelling fragrance was also considered to be pleasing to the gods. In addition, Greek medical thinkers of the time practiced an ancient form of aromatherapy, finding certain smells to improve health and vitality.

Who Wore Perfume?

Because perfume was a precious and costly substance, it was typically restricted to the wealthy. Royalty and clergy were most likely to use fragrance, a tendency that continued throughout ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and elsewhere. In ancient Greece, a person who was too poor to afford perfume might simply have a perfume bottle painted on their coffin, a tribute to the gods.


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