Scientists are using AI to recreate the stench of 16th century Europe

The Odeuropa project, based out of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, just received a $3.32 million dollar grant to discovery now stinky Europeans really were before modern indoor plumbing and other hygienic practices. Seriously. These are some of the questions they're exploring:

What are the key scents, fragrant spaces, and olfactory practices that have shaped our cultures? How can we extract sensory data from large-scale digital text and image collections? How can we represent smell in all its facets in a database? How should we safeguard our olfactory heritage? And — why should we?

The idea sounds strange, but it's pretty fascinating once you get into the details. Modern humans tend to overlook smells in favor of our other senses, but that wasn't the case. A project like this can actually help to contextualize certain parts of history, and reveal how certain smells — and/or society's reactions to them — have changed over time. As Dr. William Tullett of Anglia Ruskin University told The Guardian:

Once you start looking at printed texts published in Europe since 1500 you will find loads of references to smell, from religious scents – like the smell of incense – through to things like tobacco. It is a commodity that is introduced into Europe in the 16th century that starts off as being a very exotic kind of smell, but then quickly becomes domesticated and becomes part of the normal smell-scape of lots of European towns. Once we are getting into the 18th century, people are complaining actively about the use of tobacco in theatres.

So it really is an anthropological version of Smell-o-vision.

Scents of history: study hopes to recreate smells of old Europe [Nicola Davis / The Guardian]

Image: Public Domain