Dora Goldsmith


Dora Goldsmith portrait -

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.

Dora holds a Master of Arts in Egyptology from the Freie Universität Berlin and a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology (Biblical Archaeology and Classical Archaeology) and Ancient Near Eastern Studies (Egyptology and Assyriology) from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Dora’s PhD research focuses on the role the sense of smell played in ancient Egypt based on written evidence. The examination of olfaction in an ancient society belongs to the relatively new field of the archaeology of the senses. Archaeology of the senses investigates the way in which a historical culture perceived the world through the senses. Sensory perception is the basis for bodily experience. We experience our bodies – and the world – through our senses. Sensory perception is culturally shaped, therefore, the way in which people perceive the world through the senses may
vary as cultures vary.

The significance of the archaeology of the senses has not yet been fully recognized by Egyptologists. Some research has been done on sight and hearing, especially music, in ancient Egyptian culture. However, no comprehensive research has ever been carried out on the sense of smell, touch and taste. Through apprehending the olfactory sensation of the ancient
Egyptians, which has never been investigated before, Dora’s research topic contributes to the better understanding of ancient Egyptian culture as a whole.

Dora’s PhD project incorporates linguistic and cultural anthropological research. She carries out a semantic field research focusing on ten different words relevant to the sense of smell. In linguistics, a semantic field is a set of words grouped together by similar meaning. The semantic field she works with includes the ancient Egyptians words xnm ‘to smell’, snn or snsn ‘to smell’, sTi ‘scent’, xnm.w ‘fragrance’, id.t ‘perfume’, xnS ‘to stink’, sxnS ‘to make stink’, Sni ‘stench’, bhd
‘scent’ and qn ‘scent of fat’. She records and translates all ancient Egyptian texts including these words, which help her define the role of smells in the ancient Egyptian society. Thus, she employs written evidence and the method she uses is a linguistic one. However, written, linguistic evidence is used to examine the Egyptian culture as a whole from the aspect of sense of smell. This places her research in the field of cultural anthropology.

In order to better apprehend the ancient Egyptian documents she works with, Dora also employs the method of experimental archaeology or ‘learning by doing’. She reconstructs the smells the ancient sources describe. Two of her scientific smell reconstructions are currently exhibited in museums around the world – the Mendesian perfume at the National Geogpraphic Museum in Washington DC, and the smell of mummification at the Okayama Orient Museum in

Dora gives lectures with smell accompaniments and smell workshops around the world, where the long-lost world of the ancient Egyptians comes back to life through your nose. Throughout the workshops, Dora shares her knowledge of various aspect of the olfactory world of the ancient Egyptians, such as perfumery, mummification, garden or temple smells, and recreates their essence together with the participants.

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  • Dora Goldsmith