UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


New €2.8M international research project to capture lost scents of Europe

17 November 2020

“ODEUROPA" is the first European initiative to use artificial intelligence (AI) to investigate the importance of scents and smelling, and to discover how scents have moulded our communities and traditions.

The smell of an old book being extracted in the Heritage Science Lab

Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, the "ODEUROPA: Negotiating Olfactory and Sensory Experiences in Cultural Heritage Practice and Research" project has been launched by historians, artificial intelligence experts, chemists and perfumers across Europe to create an archive of the smells of Europe from the 16th to early 20th century.

Using state-of-the-art AI techniques, the teams will teach a computer to extract odour descriptions from historic texts spanning seven languages. They will use machine learning and computer vision to analyse scented objects and olfactory information in historic images.

An encyclopedia of the smells and their meaning, created by semantic web experts and cultural historians, will be stored online, accessible to all. In addition, some of the historic scents will be brought back to life by heritage scientists and perfumers and shared with museum visitors in a series of public events in the next three years.

UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage (ISH) will lead the work on Olfactory Heritage Science, developing the first systematic scientific characterisation and preservation of European smells of cultural significance. In addition, the team at UCL ISH will contribute to the development of scent preservation policies and create practical guidelines for the use of scents in heritage spaces. This will be led by Prof Matija Strlic, Professor of Heritage Science at ISH, supported by Research Associate Dr Cecilia Bembibre.

    Dr Cecilia Bembibre said:

    We are delighted to have this opportunity to advance smell preservation using heritage science techniques, and to better understand how we can access historic smells to enrich our experience of heritage today. In Odeuropa, we lead the scientific analysis and preservation of the key scents of Europe’s past and present.” 

    The ODEUROPA partners are:


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    Image: The smell of an old book being extracted in the Heritage Science Lab at UCL. ©HMaghoub

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