In the past (up until very recently) gender roles were extremely specific and therefore one can assume that the archaeological find reflects something about the user or the owner of the object itself.
Through the objects that are uncovered in excavations – cosmetic containers, small bowls and various minerals – one can easily imagine how a woman from the Second Temple period would wear makeup.
I will briefly present below some of the customs for face care and makeup that were practiced in ancient times.

The custom has its beginnings in magic and cultic practices in which the ancients used to apply creams and makeup to the faces of the statues of their gods in order to “bestow life on them”. Over time the custom found expression in the lives of individuals, women and men alike, for both aesthetic and therapeutic reasons.
Ancient evidence of people applying make up to their face comes to us from Egypt where kohl sticks, cosmetic materials and written descriptions were preserved.

In Egypt and Babylonia they used to rub a dark red color on the face, which was derived from red ocher mixed with vegetable oil or animal fat. As opposed to them, the Sumerians used yellow ocher. The cosmetic preparations included powders, creams, perfumes and scented oils. Due to their high price they were marketed in small quantities in little vessels with different shapes.
The vessels were manufactured from a variety of materials such as: alabaster, stone, ceramic, glass and bone. There are also faience containers that come from Egypt.
The creams were meant to soften and protect the face and keep the skin fresh. They were made of vegetable oils to which beeswax or fragrant resin was sometimes added.

Eye makeup, besides fulfilling a religious/magical role, was also intended for medical purposes. The makeup kept small flies away that caused eye infections, protected the eyelids from drying out and from the desert sun.
The eye shadow was mainly produced from crushed minerals mixed with water; sometimes resin was added to it and the preparation was kept in shells. Over time the ancients began producing special small cosmetic containers that are made of various materials, as mentioned above.
Together with the vessel there was a small applicator (kohl stick) made of ivory, bone, bronze or glass. The kohl stick was thick at one end for spreading around the eyes, and spoon-like or spatulate at the other end for mixing the makeup and removing it from the vessel.
The kohl stick would be immersed in water or scented oil and then into the powder and in that way they would apply the eye shadow to the eyes.
Along with the “make-up kit” (the container and the kohl stick), stone palettes were found that occur in a variety of geometric forms, some of which are decorated with floral or animal patterns.
These palettes were probably used for grinding and crushing the cosmetic’s ingredients into powder.

Very little is known about wearing makeup as practiced during the First Temple period. In the Bible the use of makeup is mentioned disparagingly. Jeremiah, wanting to compare Jerusalem to a prostitute wishing to make herself pretty, talks about eye makeup and uses the expression “…you enlarge your eyes with paint” (Jeremiah 4:30).

However, based on the artifacts that have been uncovered from archaeological excavations, there is no doubt that makeup was commonly used during this period.

Included among the cosmetic implements that were used to apply makeup to the eyes and face are small stone bowls that were common in this period in the Levant. These bowls have a depression in their center, are polished and decorated with incised geometric patterns.

Face care was highly developed in Greece and Rome. Women would apply creams and bright colors to their faces. They would apply red (a floral/algae essence) to their lips and cheeks and black (derived from antimony or soot) to their eyes and eyebrows.
Most of the vessels in Greece were made of clay and were adorned with drawings that depict the use of cosmetics.
Ceramic boxes with lids, known as pyxides, were also found in which there were rouge and various cosmetic materials, and there were flat and round containers that were made of bronze or marble.

The custom of face care was also widely practiced in Israel during the Second Temple period. The makeup holder that was characteristic of the period is a long narrow kohl tube. Vessels were found that are composed of two to four such tubes. In most instances the kohl stick itself is made of bronze; some are also decorated with incising. In addition, the ancients used cylindrical containers with ceramic, bone and glass lids.

Back to the present: The cosmetic industry makes millions of shekels annually, as King Solomon once said, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).


Link to the exhibition