The Italian Almanac

charm of a rose

Italian Science - March 7

Nestled among the overgrown weeds on a Cypriot hillside offering stunning views of the Mediterranean, is a pit containing circular imprints which held perfume jars which Italian archeologists believe is the oldest source of the multi-billion industry of today.

"This is 4,000 years old. Without a doubt, it is the oldest production site for perfume in the world," said Italian archeologist Maria Rosaria Belgiorno, team leader of a mission excavating the Pyrgos-Mavroraki site 55 miles southwest of Cyprus's capital Nicosia.

Scientists have managed to extract essences of the world's oldest scents and reconstruct the aromas used four millennia ago from fragments of clay perfume bottles. They have managed to unlock the aromatic oils in the tiny clay fragments, giving an invaluable insight into the scents which delighted our ancestors.

And, archeologists have discovered, modern preferences are not too different from those of 4,000 years ago. "I smelt this one and immediately thought, Pino Silvestre!" said Belgiorno, unblocking the stopper on a strong smelling golden fluid in a small vial, comparing it to a modern cologne with green bottles shaped like a pine cone.

The perfumery formed part of a larger site dating from 2000 BC which included a copper smelting works, a winery and an olive press, producing the essential ingredient for essences. Further research in the area will start in September.