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18 March 2007
Italy discovers scents of Venus

Italian archaeologists have found the world's oldest perfumes on the island of Cyprus, mythical home of the love goddess Venus. The prehistoric scents are now on show at Rome's Capitoline Museums along with research into how the ancients juggled their potions to pay homage to the goddess and earn the island its mystical allure.
     "We've found 4,000-year-old distilling equipment that is quite similar to much later Arab alembics," said National Research Council archaeologist Maria Rosa Belgiorno, who stumbled across the 'perfume factory' three years ago. "We were astonished at how big the place was - at least 4,000 square metres. Perfumes must have been produced on an industrial scale. "No wonder the island got its reputation for possessing the skills of Aphrodite," said Belgiorno, using the Greek name for Venus.
     Some 60 objects feature in the Rome show including stills, mixing bowls, funnels, amphorae and other perfume-making tools. Much of the process, Belgiorno said, was based on the olives in which the island is still abundant. "We found traces of a gigantic oil press, which supplied the life blood for most of the other machinery and the basic ingredient of these early scents," Belgiorno said.
     The perfume-making process has been recreated by modern researchers who show how the ancient craftsmen applied their skills. The fragrances themselves are arrayed in the tiny alabaster phials in which they were found in 2003: olive oil, water, pine and coriander mixed with the essence of laurel, bergamot, parsley and bitter almonds.

Sources: ANSA, UP, Science, Monsters and Critics (16 march 2007)

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