“Smell of Mummification and Ancient Egyptian Afterlife” and “The Olfactory Landscape of Lovemaking and Sexuality in Ancient Egypt” Dora Goldsmith, 1st & 2nd February 2020

Dora Goldsmith presented twice to the EEG on 1st & 2nd February 2020.

The first session was a workshop including a practical session on the smells associated with mummification (the incense and other aromatics used in preparation of the deceased). The second session was our usual Sunday afternoon lecture and was on the subject of scents and lovemaking in Ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian love lyrics are of inestimable value for their olfactory symbolisms. Attraction, love and lovemaking were all embodied by olfactory metaphors. As a matter of fact, they reveal that the sense of smell was the paramount sensory perception for expressing love. Some of these love poems are so imbued by scents that one could actually “smell the scenes” they describe. These love songs have an enormous potential for yielding unknown facts about the olfactory behaviours and values of the ancient Egyptian society. Love poems together with other genres of texts, such as hymns to deities and myths, e.g. the Birth Legend of Hatshepsut and Amenhotep III, reveal that the sense of smell played a decisive factor in the sexual practices of the ancient Egyptians. Recent medical studies indicate that humans, similarly to animals, seem to use olfactory communication and are even able to produce and perceive certain pheromones; and that pheromones may play a vital role in the behavioural and reproduction biology of humans. The ancient Egyptian texts connected to sexual attraction indicate that the ancient Egyptians seem to have had a better understanding of this subject than the modern medical world. Until recently, modern medicine has considered humans optical beings and underestimated the importance of the human sense of smell in sexuality and reproduction. The world of modern medicine is now slowly realizing, what the ancient Egyptians seems to have known thousands of years ago, that humans are able to receive olfactory cues that affect sexual behaviour. Evidence from ancient Egypt seems to be crucial not only for reconstructing olfactory knowledge and behaviour in this ancient culture, but also for revolutionizing modern science.

Dora Goldsmith is a PhD student of Egyptology at the Freie Universität Berlin. The topic of her PhD project is the sense of smell in ancient Egypt, the exact title of her research being The Archaeology of Smell in Ancient Egypt. A Cultural Anthropological Study Based on Written Sources.