BLANC - Blanc

Parfums et Résidus Huileux de la Méditerranée Occidentale – PERHAMO

Submission summary

1. Scientific context and project objectives : From the Bronze Age to the Archaic Period perfume played just as decisive a role as wine did when it came to developing long distance trading and to the emergence of the elite. The sources that allow one to tackle the economic and cultural roles of perfume in the Pre-Classical Mediterranean world are diverse but for these ancient periods it is archaeology which proves to have the greatest potential. There are hundreds of thousands of small stone, ceramic, glass, and earthenware containers which help identify the production workshops as well as the destination of the perfume. The contexts of the discoveries (settlements, sanctuaries, tombs) tell us about the use and status of the perfume. Of course, this archaeological approach is completed by the study of texts, epigraphy, and iconographies, but what the historians and archaeologists are lacking is the very subject of their study, the content itself, the actual perfume which evaporated thousands of years ago. Half-solidified residue of the perfume is sometimes conserved inside unguentaria, when the latter is made of ceramic, its sides absorb the oils and essences which have been preserved and can therefore be released. Diverse analyses deriving from gas chromatography along with other methods have been made for twenty years now, with very interesting results. 2. Project description, methodology : The acquired experience of the chemistry laboratory of Nicolas Garnier in the field of residue identification and the new perspectives brought forth by the DNA analyses in the laboratory in Lyon currently provide archaeologists with yet unheard of scientific possibilities. Our project's originality is based on two essential points: firstly, a multidisciplinary study of vessels and their contents (epigraphy, iconography, typology, study of archaeological contests), and secondly, as far as the contents are concerned, archeometric analyses of a very large number of pieces. The contents will be collected in-situ (Marseille, South Etruria, Carthage…) from artefacts which have recently been placed in well-identified and dated archaeological contexts. They will be analyzed by gas chromatography for the identification of vegetable oils and essences and analyzed for DNA to obtain more details on the vegetable species and to be able to identify the animals used in the composition of the perfumes. 3. Expected results : A multidisciplinary study which gives as much importance to the contents as the container will give answers to the essential questions about the technical, cultural, and economic dimensions of perfume. The identification of the components of perfumes dating I the VIIth and VIth centuries B.C. is obviously at the heart of our study, but furthermore, we hope to understand the methods and chronology of the technological transfer from one oriental and Mediterranean region to another, and to know the reasons for technical or symbolic choices of the different ingredients, either mineral, vegetable, or animal. Likewise, the objective is to comprehend the acculturation role that perfume played in the Mediterranean for a little over thousand years, in a fundamentally historical period which saw the rise and establishment of Oriental, Phoenician, Greek, and Etruscan cultures. Comprehending the use of perfume in western Mediterranean lets one understand cultural aspects which shed much light on the evolution of different societies and the elaboration of their different social, political, and religious values. The results will be made public through an archaeological publication from the Presses Universitaires de Rennes.

Project coordination

Dominique FRERE (Université)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Help of the ANR 220,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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