Project facts

Duration: 2021-12-01 - 2024-12-01
Project coordinator: Heritage Science Laboratory Ljubljana at UL Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology
Project consortium: Cracow University of Economics, Poland (Tomasz Sawoszczuk); Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie, National Museum in Krakow; Narodni muzej Slovenije, National Museum of Slovenia in Ljubljana
Funding bodies: CEUS scheme in collaboration between NCN (Narodowe Centrum Nauki) and ARRS (Slovenian Research Agency)
Subject areas: Archives, Tangible Heritage
Budget: € 800 000


Compared to other senses, the sense of smell has currently only a minor role in the way heritage and history are communicated, even though smell is fundamental to how humans perceive and deal with the environment, both physically and emotionally. Olfactory displays in museums are still rare, also because a system of characterization, reproduction and preservation of smells of historic objects has not been developed yet.

Impacts & Results

ODOTHEKA project aims to develop an international archive of smells of heritage objects. The project’s goals are:

To characterize and reproduce odours of selected historical objects from the collections of the National Museum of Krakow, and the National Museum of Slovenia;

To examine the historical significance and catalogue odours with the aim to develop the Odotheka archive;

To explore how such odours can be displayed effectively and safely and examine the added value of olfactory experience to object interpretation and visitors.

ODOTHEKA project will develop a pipeline for archival of heritage smells based on selected case studies, i.e. 5 objects from the Muzeum Narodowe w Krakowie (National Museum in Krakow), and 5 from the collection of the Narodni muzej Slovenije (National Museum in Ljubljana). The approach will involve historical evaluation, chemical analysis and odour reproduction:

Historical evaluation will consider the cultural and historical value of the object in question, as well as the significance of olfactory information to the overall interpretation of the object in its historical context. Historical narratives will be developed to inform olfactory object displays, as well as to become an integral part of an archival entry.

Using chemical analysis we will characterize the object aroma components and identify those volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that constitute the odour. VOCs will be sampled on a sorbent in the shape of a thin wire (SPME), or in narrow tubes filled with a sorbent material such as Tenax®, followed by chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) with olfactory detection.

Olfactory characterisation via human noses is essential to describe, examine and recreate an authentic historic odour. Panels of assessors will evaluate the original and reproduced smells. Assessors will rate odour intensity and hedonic tone, based on which the odour and its chemical composition can be documented using the historic odour wheel developed by Bembibre and Strlič (2017).