Date of Award

August 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Bettina Arnold

Committee Members

Joseph H. Aldstadt, John D. Richards


FT-IR, ICP-MS, Museums, Perfume, Unguentaria


Scent has traditionally been an ephemeral component of rituals in ancient societies, including burial and other practices associated with the anointing of the body (Classen et al. 1994: 43; Houston and Taube 2000: 271). This thesis investigates the possible signifiers and social impact such scents might have had for individuals participating in such rituals by using the little explored approach of sensory archaeology. A discussion of the correlation between olfaction and the triggering of both the experiential and emotional aspects of memory contributes to a broader view of these rituals in the anthropological literature (Classen et al. 1994), while Houston and Taube's work on scent in Mayan rituals provides a framework for applying sensory archaeology to Classical contexts (2000). Vessel contents are used as a proxy in this thesis for reconstructing the particular olfactory atmosphere associated with mortuary ritual in late Greek and early Roman cultural contexts. The residue spectra derived from the visible contents of twenty-seven out of a total of thirty-nine small glass and ceramic vials from collections at the Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) are compared to other unguentaria residue studies as well as Greek and Roman written sources in which scented unguents, oils, perfumes, creams, and cosmetics are described to test the archaeological classification of this vessel category. Stylistic conventions are tested against data derived from content analysis rather than solely on the basis of assumed function implied by form. The chemical characterization of the contents of these vessels relies on the use of inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) and Fourier transform-infrared spectroscopy (FTIR). FT-IR was chosen for its successful application in a recent residue study of unguentaria (Ribechini et al. 2008a-b) while ICP-MS analysis was performed based upon its widespread application to the determination of sample origin.