Perfumes and creams from Roman times have often been found and can even be remixed. But in Iran a much earlier beauty helper was found. A small stone bottle is 4000 years old. It is the oldest example of a lipstick. The majority of the mixture contained are minerals that produce a deep red color, plus waxy organic substances that bind the powder.

“Both the intensity of the red color minerals and the waxy substances are surprisingly fully compatible with contemporary lipstick formulations,” says the study, which appeared in Scientific Reports.

The researchers believe that the vial comes from the Marḫaši, a powerful civilization that ruled what is now eastern Iran. The vial has been dated to between 1936 and 1687 BC. It dates back to around 3000 BC, which is “not at all surprising considering the long-standing, well-known technical and aesthetic tradition in cosmetics in ancient Iran.” The vial could be comfortably held in one hand with a copper or bronze mirror, “leaving the other hand free to use a brush or other applicator.” This is also depicted on an Egyptian papyrus, it shows a young woman painting her lips while holding a vial in her hand.

The lead author of the study, Massimo Vidale, told CNN that of course it was not possible to determine exactly what was done with the red, sticky substance. It is conceivable that it was also used as a cheek blush. But the homogeneous, deep red color, the substances used and the shape of the bottle indicate “that it was used on the lips.”

It is not the first discovery of cosmetics from this civilization. What is striking is the almost complete absence of lead-containing compounds that are otherwise found in beauty products. Also a note for use as lipstick. They wanted to avoid contact with the toxic lead in the mouth.

The small container appeared in 2001 when a river flooded several ancient cemeteries in southeastern Iran and items from the burials came to the surface. It was later housed in the Jiroft Archaeological Museum.

Vidale complained to the Smithsonian that cosmetics were often overlooked, even though they were common commodities. “The lack of attention given to this Bronze Age industry is, in my opinion, due to the fact that it was viewed as a secondary ‘women’s business’.” It is assumed that men also applied make-up back then.

Sources: Scientific Reports ArtnetSmithsonian CNN

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