Can Cyprus claim world's oldest perfumery?
By Michele Kambas
PYRGOS, Cyprus (Reuters) Feb 24 - Egypt's Queen Cleopatra showed how to woo members of the opposite sex with it, the French may have perfected it, but it is the Cypriots who can now lay claim to the world's oldest perfumery.
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 archaeologists 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 archaeologist 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 locked in the tiny clay fragments, giving an invaluable insight into the scents which delighted our ancestors.
And, archaeologists 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 phial, comparing it to the musky aroma of the cologne with its unmistakable green bottles shaped like a pine cone.
Scientists from the Italian Institute of Technologies Applied to Cultural Heritage found aromas of cinnamon, laurel, myrtle, anise and citrus bergamot in clay fragments, all indigenous plants growing in the region.
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.
Cleopatra left her indelible stamp on perfume as a product that can make men or women go weak at the knees ... or so today's producers would like us to think.
Legend has it she set off to seduce Mark Antony at their first encounter in Tarsus, modern day Turkey, by sailing in on a barge with perfumed sails and incense oils wafting in on burners.
Aromatic resins were also used in funeral rites. "One gramme of special essence was sometimes worth more than gold," said Belgiorno.
It was not clear who purchased the perfume from Cyprus, but records from Knossos in Crete show the island selling 576 litres of pure-grade olive oil, something which could suggest busy trade then, said Belgiorno.
"The Cypriots probably learnt from the Egyptians, we know there were very strong links between the two," she said.
The find is significant to an element of Cypriot history long erased from local memories, but could explain two mystifying names which appear in a list of 10 fragrance families, an industry standard.
Only two refer to geographic regions and both pertain to Chypre, French for Cyprus.