Questions for ‘Long-lost ‘smellscapes’ are wafting from artifacts and old texts’

painted relief of Ramses III holding a lit incense burner

Researchers are exploring the smells that permeated ancient societies. Odor molecules, old documents and other archaeological finds may reveal how the world once smelled. Here, a painted artwork shows Pharaoh Ramses III holding an incense burner. Substances ignited in incense burners produced sweet aromas.

Science Source

To accompany “Long-lost ‘smellscapes’ are wafting from artifacts and old texts


Before Reading:

1.  A smellscape is the group of smells associated with a place and time. What is the smellscape of your life? How would you describe the smells of your home, your school and your community? Think about how they are similar — and how they differ.

2.  How do you think the smellscape of your family’s home or community differed in the past?

3. What do you think ancient Egypt smelled like? Why?

During Reading:

1.  What did a ceremonial song ask Pharoah Ramses VI to do when he became king?

2.  Why has it been hard for archaeologists to learn about smells of the past?

3.  What do smells have to do with human culture? For instance, how do smells relate to food, fashion, art or religious practices? Can you think of other parts of culture that sometimes have an aroma?

4.  How did chemists study smells from things once held in old jars and cups?

5.  What smells had special meanings in ancient Egypt?

6.  Goldsmith and her colleagues tried to revive the scents of old perfumes. What are some of the challenges they faced?

7.  What did the perfume of Cleopatra, an ancient Egyptian queen, smell like?         

8.  Which odors — stinky or sweet — got more mentions in ancient texts? Why do you think that was?

9.  How do people’s thoughts about nasty or nice smells today compare across the world? What do data on smell preferences of today likely tell us about preferences in the ancient past?

10. What did good and bad smells symbolize in ancient Egypt? Why do researchers think that may be?

After Reading:

1.  What are some smells that have special meaning to you? Can you think of any smells that are part of special memories?

2.  Go on a smellwalk through your school or on your street (but keep your eyes open and watch where you’re going). What aromas do you smell? Can you identify where they’re coming from? What are ways that someone might study those smells?