Archaeometric identification of a perfume from Roman times
Román, Juan Manuel
Ruiz Arrebola, José Rafael
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Although archaeological excavations have recovered a large number of vessels used to hold perfumes or ointments in ancient Rome, little is known about the chemical composition or origin of the substances they contained. Most available information pertains to ointment and/or cosmetic bases rather than to essences. The discovery in 2019 of an ointment jar (unguentarium) made of rock crystal (quartz) that was sealed with a stopper and contained a solid mass in a Roman tomb in Carmona (Seville, Spain) was a rather unusual finding. This paper reports the results of an archaeometric study of the unguentarium stopper and its contents. Based on them, and on comparisons with commercially available patchouli and nard oil standards, the perfume held in the unguentarium was probably patchouli. To our knowledge, this may be the first time a perfume from Roman times has been identified, which is a major advance in this field. The unguentarium stopper consisted of dolomite, a material also unknown in this type of use, and bitumen was used to seal the unguentarium with the stopper.