Archaeologists in the Jiroft region of southeastern Iran have uncovered a remarkable discovery. Among numerous artifacts looted and later recovered, a small chlorite vial has been found containing a deep red cosmetic preparation believed to be an ancient form of lipstick.
The findings, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveal that the mineral components of the reddish substance include hematite, darkened with manganite and braunite, along with traces of galena and anglesite. These were mixed with vegetal waxes and other organic substances, resembling closely the recipes of contemporary lipsticks.
The discovery, dated to the early 2nd millennium BCE, provides valuable insight into the ancient civilization of Marḫaši, mentioned in coeval cuneiform texts of Mesopotamia.
“So far, for the world of 5000-4000 years ago, we knew about makeup recipes, eyeliners, and eye shadows but not about lip paints.” Professor Massimo Vidale, one of the authors of the study and a professor of archaeology at the University of Padua in Italy, told Bored Panda in an email.
The ancient Iranians’ sophisticated knowledge of chemical processing and their use of diverse metal ores likely contributed to the complexity of their cosmetic products. The Jiroft civilization, believed to be the ancient polity of Marḫaši, flourished in a valley rich with diverse lithic resources, providing favorable conditions for the development of advanced cosmetics.
Cosmetic containers found in burial contexts suggest the importance of presenting specific social identities, even beyond death, in early urban societies. Professor Vidale noted that cosmetics played a crucial role in both ceremonial and funerary contexts, reflecting the social hierarchies of the time.
While previous archaeological evidence mainly focused on white or light-colored compounds, the discovery of deep red lip pigments adds a new dimension to our understanding of ancient cosmetics.
Despite the absence of historical records or depictions in the Jiroft region, the discovery suggests that Iran could be the birthplace of lipstick. Professor Vidale cautioned against definitive claims of “earliest evidence,” acknowledging the perpetual possibility of new discoveries reshaping our understanding of ancient cultures.
The slender shape of the lipstick vial, along with its compatibility with ancient mirrors, hints at similarities between ancient cosmetic practices and contemporary beauty rituals.
The Jiroft civilization remains largely mysterious due to the mass looting and destruction of its graveyards in 2000-2001.