Ancient Egyptian Makeup

Ancient Egyptian women wearing kohl, from a tomb mural in Thebes
Image Credit : Public Domain

In an article published in Heritage Daily, scholars have concluded that the recipe for Kohl, a dark eye cosmetic used as mascara and eyeliner in ancient Egypt, was more diverse than previously thought.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

Kohl, a dark eye cosmetic has been worn traditionally since the Protodynastic Period of Egypt by Egyptian queens and noble women. Kolh was not only applied for aesthetic reasons, but also for hygienic, therapeutic, and religious functions.

It is also widely used in the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, West Africa, and the Horn of Africa as eyeliner to contour and/or darken the eyelids and as mascara for the eyelashes. The contents of kohl and various ways to prepare it differ based on tradition and country.

Researchers analysed the contents of 11 kohl containers from the Petrie Museum in London, covering a broad range of locations and periods from Ancient Egypt.

The resulting data reveals that kohls were heterogeneous mixtures divided into three main groups: (1) inorganic dominant, (2) mixed organic and inorganic, and (3) unknowns.

The study also represents the first systematic study of organic components in kohls. It yielded six specimens that likely consist predominantly of organic materials such as plant oils and animal-derived fat. Taxonomically distinctive ingredients identified included Pinaceae resin and beeswax. All these findings point towards more varied recipes than initially thought and significantly shift our understanding of Ancient Egyptian kohls.

Read the article by visiting Heritage Daily.

NOTE: For other studies on the history and archaeology of Egypt, read my post Egypt, The Land of the Pharaohs.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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