History is written, read, told — but rarely ever is it smelled.
Historians and scientists across Europe have now gotten together with perfumers and museums for a unique project: to capture what Europe smelled like between the 16th and early 20th centuries. A European street today may smell like coffee, fresh-baked bread and cigarettes. But what did it smell like hundreds of years ago? As part of this three-year-long project called “Odeuropa,” the researchers want to find all the old scents of Europe — and even recreate some of this ancient smellscape: from the dry tobacco scents and the earthy medicinal herbs, to the odors of stinky canals.
To do this, they will first build artificial intelligence that will be trained to scan historical texts, written in seven different languages, for any descriptions of odors, according to The Guardian. The A.I. will also be trained to detect images of objects in the texts that might be aromatic. The team will then use this information to create an online encyclopedia of smells from Europe’s past.