Jewelry and makeup in ancient Persia
Sun, 17 Feb 2008 18:12:00
By Hedieh Ghavidel, Press TV, Tehran
Archaeological finds in Iran show that women and men applied makeup
and arrayed themselves with ornaments approximately 10,000 years ago,
a trend which began from religious convictions rather than mere
Archaeologists have discovered various instruments of make-up and
ornamental items in the Burnt City, which date back to the third
The caves of the Bakhtiari region, where the first hunter-gatherers
settled at the end of the ice age, have yielded not only stone tools,
daggers and grindstones but also several stones covered with red
Parthian goat-shaped vessel
As no cave paintings have been found in this area, researchers believe
the people of this era bepainted their faces and bodies with ocher.
Other caves in Kermanshah have also yielded several samples of animal
bones with traces of paint. Again, as the cave walls are undecorated,
it can be inferred that the residents used these bones as ornaments.
The tombs found in Kerman have all yielded white powder made of lead
or silver suggesting the people of this region were the first to use
white powder for beautification purposes.
Jewelry found in the Burnt City, Iran
Archaeologists also believe that both women and men used a red powder
found inside small saucer-like vessels unearthed in some tombs to
redden their cheeks.
The masks and statues unearthed at Haft Tappeh in Khuzestan, show the
people of the time blackened and extended their eyebrows, reddened
their lips and cheeks and lined their eyes up to the eyebrows.
Archaeological finds dating back to the first millennium BCE, show the
diversity and abundance of cosmetics and ornaments in this period,
suggesting that this era was the peak of the art of decoration and
makeup in Iran.
A Parthian Gold Bead
Ten thousand year old discoveries from a number of caves, especially
Mazandaran's Huto and Kamarband caves and Kermanshah's Bisotoun Cave,
reveal that women and men adorned themselves with pelts, shells,
colorful stones and the teeth and bones of hunted animals.
Metal, bone, shell, stone and glass rings, bracelets, armlets,
anklets, hair and dress pins, circlets, chokers, ornamental buttons,
various ear and fingernail cleaning tools are among the frequent finds
from this era.
Persian carnelian bead bracelet (500-300 BCE)
Agate, pearls and other semi-precious stones have been discovered in
the Burnt City, and the quantity of unearthed necklaces, bracelets and
rings show that the inhabitants were fully aware of the value of
ornaments and their application.
Archaeological excavations in central Iran at Tappeh Si Arg in Kashan
and Tappeh Hessar in Damghan have unveiled the same extent of makeup
materials and ornamental ware.
Decorative beads made from pearl, turquoise, copper, silver, gold and
unbaked or baked lime from 4,600 BCE to 1,800 BCE are the most
frequent finds at these sites.
Seal showing a Persian defeating a Grecian warrior
Rings, necklaces, crowns, earrings, foot ornaments, bracelets and even
metal beads adorned with what is thought to be family insignia all
testify to the mastery of their artisans.
Tappeh Hessar graves, even those belonging to children, all contain an
array of such objects.
Cave dwellers used water as the first mirror. Gradually as man learned
to melt and polish metals, he crafted mirrors.
A pair of Gold Earrings ( 500-300 BCE)
The oldest man-made mirrors discovered, which date back 4500 years,
have been found mostly in Ilam, Luristan and Azarbaijan and are
ornamented with mythological figures carved into their handles and
In the excavation of the Sassanid tombs of Azarbaijan, two sheets of
glass with tar and silver-coated backs were discovered, which
archaeologists believe were used like modern mirrors.
These sheets of glass/ancient mirrors like many other Iranian
treasures from the past have been housed in the British Museum.
An Achaemenid seal housed in the Louvre depicts a fully made-up
aristocratic woman looking at her reflection in a mirror while a maid
presents her with a hairpiece.
The first combs found in Burnt City excavations are as old as 4,700
years and are mostly wooden with embossed decorations.
Studies suggest the women of Sistan used combs for both decoration and
One ancient statue shows a queen with her hair collected behind her
head in a crescent.
Archaeologists believe women used the various springs found in the
tombs in Ilam's Poshtkoh cemetery to wrap their hair. Hair wrappers
with a bejeweled middle or outside rod have also been discovered in
Ilam's Chenar graveyard.
Persepolis images suggest kings and soldiers used extensions in their
beards and hair.
Achaemenid white agate bead necklace ( 550-330 BCE)
Parthians wore pendants, tiny pins, rings, circlets, perfume, precious
stones and clay or glass beads to banish ill omens.
Sassanid women were so attached to makeup and ornaments that they were
often buried with them. In this era, the use of semi-precious
ornamental objects became popular, an example of which is the belt
buckle adorned with pink agate which is housed at the Wisebaden
Sassanid carnelian stamp seal
Achaemenid jewelry was decorated with mythological, plant and animal
shapes. For example, bracelets were thin and the two ends were adorned
by lion, ram, goose, deer or snake heads.
The intricacy of some of the jewelry unearthed still amazes
archaeologists as to how people from ancient times designed and
produced ornaments of such delicacy.
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