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'Roman Cosmetics' Found at London Temple Dig
July 28, 2003


LONDON - Archaeologists excavating the site of a major Roman temple in London have found a sealed box containing a white cream still bearing the fingermarks of the roman who last used it, nearly 1,900 years ago. 
"This is of major significance," said Museum of London curator Francis Grew Monday.
The substance, which will now be chemically analyzed, could be face cream or even face paint, he told reporters.
"Initial guesses of its function ranged from cosmetic face cream and toothpaste to something that was smeared on goats before they were killed."

"We are in completely uncharted territory here. Not only is the quality of workmanship of the box exceptional, but to find one in such good condition still sealed and with its original contents will raise huge interest around the world," he added.

 
Photo Reuters

Museum conservator Liz Barham who opened the fist-sized cylindrical tin box for the first time Monday, in front of the world's media, described the smell from the half-full container as "sulphurous" and "cheesy." 
The tin pot is about six centimetres wide and plainly decorated. It was found at the bottom of a ditch on the edge of the site of the temple next to the merging of two major roads into Roman London -- Watling Street from the port of Dover and Stane Street from the garrison town of Chichester.

 


Photo Reuters

The pot was found in a Roman drain and appears to have been deliberately hidden.
The site -- which last year revealed a stone tablet with the earliest known inscription bearing the Roman name of London (see links below) -- dates from 50 AD and contained two small temples, a guest house for travelers, plinths for statues and a stone pillar.

The discovery was unearthed in July by Pre-Construct Archaeology, which has been digging the soccer pitch-sized area for the past year, whose managing director, Gary Brown, looking over Ms Barham's shoulder, said: "I'm astounded. We've been asked several times what to expect in there, but I don't think we could have expected that it would be so full, or that it would be some kind of cosmetic, moisturising cream or whatever it is.
"Clearly, Roman creams of any type, paint or cosmetic, do not normally survive in the archaeological record, we don't know if it's unique, but it's pretty exceptional."

Apart from the tin box and stone tablet, the site in modern day Southwark about two miles south of central London has also revealed pieces of statues, leather shoes and a wooden writing tablet among many other artifacts.
It will disappear under concrete this Summer when construction of a shopping and housing complex starts.

 

Related links:

Roman London map redrawed
Daily Telegraph, January 23, 2003

Scientists Find Earliest Roman London Plaque
SunHerald, October 11, 2002

 

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