A shell found in Spain served as a cosmetic bag for the ancient Romans

A shell found in Spain served as a cosmetic bag for the ancient Romans
A shell found in Spain served as a cosmetic bag for the ancient Romans

Scientists from the Historical, Artistic and Archaeological Council of the city of Merida, the University of Granada and the Institute for Cultural Heritage of Spain analyzed the contents of a shell found in a 1st century burial in Spain and concluded that it was used to store cosmetics.

The shell was discovered in 2000 during excavations in the city of Merida, which in the Roman era was the capital of the province of Lusitania and was called Augusta Emerita. Outside the northeastern gates of the city, along the road leading to another Roman settlement - Colonia Metellinensis (modern Medellin), according to ancient tradition, there was a cemetery. Archaeologists have found six graves. One of them was a rectangular grave, inside of which were the remains of a cremated body and a burial bed. Burial offerings were placed on top of the ash layer: two ceramic vessels of local production, a glass vase, four small glass ungentaria (bottles for storing oil, incense or medicine), and two shell valves.

Inspection revealed that the shell belongs to the large scallop (Pecten maximus), an edible bivalve mollusc common in the North Atlantic from Norway to Madeira. In both flaps, holes made by people have been preserved, where the thread that held them together was passed. All of this indicated that the shell was used as a vessel or casket. Such vessels are known as pixida. They usually stored powders, cosmetics, spices or ointments. Initially, pixids were carved from wood (their name comes from the Greek name for boxwood), then pixids from ceramics, metal, ivory and other materials appeared.

Between the shells of the shell, among the earth that filled it, there was a fragment of a silver thread that served to connect the shells, and a small oblong lump of a bright pink hue. Using X-ray diffraction and spectrographic analysis, scientists have established that this substance is a dye extracted from the roots of the madder plant and known as "crapp". For the makeup of the Roman era, this is a rather rare option, much more often the Romans used mineral pigments. Scientists note that madder dye produced a much more rosy complexion than the mineral blush, which had an orange tint.

The use of sink flaps as a cosmetic case has a very long history. The oldest shells with traces of cosmetic pigments were found during excavations in the city of Ur in Mesopotamia and date back to about 2500 BC. NS. In the Roman Empire, there were not only cosmetic shells, but also cosmetic cases made of other materials (amber, bone, glass, metal), made in the form of shells.