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Archaeologists analyze the composition of a Roman-era 'makeup case'


A study carried out by researchers from the Merida Consortium, the University of Granada (UGR) and the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain has analysed the contents of a scallop shell discovered in a 1st century AD grave and found traces of makeup.

Archaeologists analyze the composition of a Roman-era 'makeup case'
Image of the scallop with pigment residues 
[Credit:University of Granada]
First discovered in 2000 during excavations of a funerary complex in the former capital of the Lusitania, Augusta Emerita (present-day Merida) the 'make-up case' was uncovered in a deposit of cremated remains alongside ceramic cups, bone spindles, nails, glassware and the remains of a detachable bone box.


The make-up case is made from a bivalve malacological mollusk specimen of pecten maximus (viera). Once the shell was opened, it was possible to document the cosmetic remains, specifically, a small ball of a “pinkish” powdery conglomerate via a combination of X-ray diffraction (XRD), electron microscopy and chromatographic analysis.

Archaeologists analyze the composition of a Roman-era 'makeup case'
The study revealed that the pinkish deposit was composed of a granite lacquer, mixed with a rose madder 
to obtain the colouration and then an astringent compound was used as a fixative agent 
[Credit: University of Granada]


The use of the mollusk as a cosmetic container is a practice that dates back thousands of years across various civilisations. One of the earliest examples is tiny shells in the Sumerian city of Ur from 2500 BC that contained pigments used for cosmetics.

The study revealed that the pinkish deposit was composed of a granite lacquer, mixed with a rose madder to obtain the coloration and then an astringent compound was used as a fixative agent.

The results of the study have been published in the latest issue of Saguntum.

Source: University of Granada [January 24, 2020]

TANN

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