The oldest known cosmetics found in ceramic bottles on the Balkan Peninsula


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Credit: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports

A trio of researchers from the Slovenian Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia at the Center for Preventive Archeology and Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Germany, have found evidence of the oldest known use of cosmetics at an excavation site in the Balkans. In their article published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, Bine Kramberger, Christoph Berthold and Cynthianne Spiteri describe the ceramic vials that contained the cosmetics and what they found inside.

In 2014, team member Bine Kramberger discovered a small bottle at an excavation site in Zgornje Radvanje, Slovenia. Soon after, other diggers discovered similar bottles. Over the following years, more than a hundred bottles were discovered in the region. Initial examination of the bottles suggested that they were a type of children’s toy, or perhaps medicine bottles, due to their small size. In addition, it was noted that the bottles had holes in their handles, suggesting that they would have been strung on and hung from the waist or perhaps around the neck. In this new effort, researchers took a close look at some of the bottles to learn more about what they might have once held.

Close inspection of more than a dozen bottles revealed traces of cerusite, sometimes called “white lead” or carbonite. It has been found in a variety of containers from several locations around the world throughout history. It was even used in modern painting until it was found to poison children who consumed it. The researchers also note that many of the tiny bottles were found with long, thin stone tools nearby – possible extraction devices. The team also found small pieces of animal fat, beeswax and vegetable oils in the bottles; all signs of materials intended for application to the skin.

The bottles have been dated between 4350 and 4100 BC. AD, making it by far the oldest known evidence of cosmetic use in Europe. It also takes them further back in time for cosmetic use than Mesopotamia and Egypt. The bottles are believed to have been created and used by people known as Lasinja, the Neolithic hunter-gatherers.

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More information:
Bine Kramberger et al, Miniature ceramic bottles of the fifth millennium BC. AD from the South-Eastern Pre-Alps and the Central Balkans: a multidisciplinary approach to study their content and function, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jasrep.2021.102993

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