Kohl container - ROM2018_16224_16


Kohl container

Geography: Egypt
Date: c. 1985-1773 BC
Period: 12th Dynasty, Middle Kingdom
5.2 × 5 cm
Object number: 909.80.160.A
On view
Gallery Location:Galleries of Africa: Egypt

Small, elegant stone pots in this shape were very popular in the Middle Kingdom of Ancient Egypt as containers for cosmetics, particularly for the black eyeliner known as kohl. Both sexes wore kohl, and it was applied to children as well.  Ancient Egyptians believed that the use of mesdjemet was both attractive and beneficial.

The oldest Egyptian black eyeliner was made of stibnite, the sulphide of antimony. It was produced by grinding the stone on a palette. Later galena, a sulphide of lead, was used.  Both are toxic, but the Ancients may have found their ability to protect the eyes from bright sunlight and to discourage visits from insects made wearing kohl worth the risk.  Some ancient kohl was made of charcoal from burned plants or resins.

The chief health benefit of kohl may be in cutting down the glare of the sun's rays. There has been some dispute about how much lead from eyeliner actually enters the blood-stream, but concerns over this issue have made the use of antimony and galena in kohl illegal in most western countries.

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