Hyraceum . "Africa Stone." Petrified urine and fecal "rock" excreted by the Cape hyrax (Procavia capensis, "dassie," "rock hyrax"). Southern African drylands. Animal waste product used in perfumery.
Rock hyraxes have been known to visit the same middens (dunghills or waste heaps) to defecate over many generations. Middens may be located in caves, which offers the droppings some protection from the elements. Some middens are as old as 50,000 years. These ancient piles of shit are actually valuable fossils, containing records of historical climates and plants. Collecting hyraceum supposedly does not disturb the animals. Hyraxes look like rotund ground squirrels, but they are not. Their closest relatives are actually manatees and elephants.
Although initially soft and sticky like most freshly produced feces, the Africa Stone ages to a brittle, blackish strata. Once matured and hardened, the material acquires a friable resinous texture and is pretty much sterile. Like wine, the aging process only deepens its complex aroma. A hunk of this rock smells sharply urinous, with a fragrant barnyard ferment. It has been likened to tonquin (Siberian deer musk) although hyraceum is not suave. It has some of the ethereal floral indolic qualities found in civet. But where civet is gummy and round, hyraceum is sandy and arid. Some of the harsh, nostril flaring tannic acid bite of castoreum is there, but without castoreum's olive scent. It is close to agarwood in complexity. From a distance of a foot or more, but for its urinous note, it is almost indistinguishable from the heavy agrestic scent of unwashed black fleece from an Icelandic wether. But up close it loses the signature of oil made by sebaceous glands as the acrid anal gland marches forward as author. It's like the dried smear of shit, which it literally is, and nothing wet or fresh smelling. When you consider that such fragrant power might be an ancient artifact, if its scent has faded or decayed at all, it must have been nose shattering when first produced.
Once carefully put in tincture, with all the particles that fall off like dust swept in, it sits in dilution to age further. After a year or two, you'll notice some rounding around the edges, but not much. If anything, the alcohol adds to the volatile ethereality of its floral stench. A definitive purple grape note emerges, very smooth like a bubble. It's not a juicy note, but it smells like grape juice. I would never call it mouthwatering. But when used in small amounts in dilution, it is the most captivating, addictive animalic. My favorite (with unwashed wool being a close second). Shriveled long peppers, salt, and steaming tar. There is something so dry, hot, and exposed, like a desert. Its records transport you to a landscape, something that I don't experience with ambergris, civet, castoreum, tonquin, or even lanolin. It has a cinematic quality, feeling both kinetic and ancient. I feel like this would be Georges Ba taille's go-to perfume, if he wore fragrance. I could see Hans Bellmer* huffing it while he drew his intestinal hairstyles and bulbous anatomies. It's the aroma birthed along with Udo Kier in Riget. It's the vulnerable cologne of Polyneices's flesh rotting in the open air, outside social limits. A solar anus of shame.
Africa Stone has been used in traditional South African folk medicine practices to treat epilepsy. A clinical study recently revealed that hyraceum tested positive for an affinity for the GABA-benzodiazepine receptor in the human brain.
My personal transmedia associations (synaes-media) evoked by the odor of hyraceum:
Hans Bellmer's illustrations for Bataille's publications.
Georges Bataille, Divine Filth (lost scatological fragments).
The Rectum, nightclub in Irréversible, dir. Gaspar Noé.
The Remote Viewer, Coil.
Udo Kier in Riget.
Red/yellow dust in Wake in Fright, dir. Ted Kotcheff.
Polyneices's carrion, Antigone. Sophocles.
Photo: one of my three year tinctures of wild hyraceum from Karoo.
*Bellmer died of bladder cancer.
Copyright 2021 Abby Hinsman for Wild Veil Perfume.