Etruscan Beauty Secrets Revealed

Resins from pine and cashew trees, and Egyptian moringa oil: these are the essential ingredients of a rich woman’s beauty routine in Italy before the dawn of the Roman empire. The solid, yellow cream was found in an Egyptian alabaster vase belonging to an aristocratic Etruscan lady and is thought to be more than 2,000 years old. The results of a scientific analysis have just been published in July’s edition of Journal of Archaeological Science.

While a concoction of these oils may not sound particularly attractive to modern women (let’s face it, the oily unction sounds like a sure pore-blocking formula), its Egyptian origin meant it was probably a highly-prized beauty product that only elite Etruscans could afford. Moringa oil is native to Africa and India and was used by ancient cultures for its high vitamin content and skin-softening properties. Egyptians used to place vases of it in their tombs and it was also used as a hair conditioner and deodorant.

The Etruscan tomb where this particular vase of cream was found belonged to a lady called Thana Presnti Plecunia Umranalisa a member of one of Chiusi‘s most important Etruscan families, according to researchers. The cream’s container was found in a beauty case, which also contained other objects such as rings and tweezers. The tomb was discovered in 2005 in an Etruscan necropolis near Chiusi, in Tuscany, Italy. The team of archaeologists was lead by Dr Mario Iozzo, until 2008 director of the National Archaeological Museum of Chiusi, and responsible for the Archaeological patrimony of that area.

According to Dr Iozzo, now vice-director of the National Archaeological Museum of Florence and curator of the Greek and Magna Grecia sections, less than one-quarter of the cream was left inside the alabaster container. He told Heritage Key by email that “this is still a great deal, and analyses are currently being done in Brussels and Paris as well, in order to try to recover as much data as we can.”

This is almost unique in archaeology. Even though more than 2,000 years have passed, the oxidation of the organic material has not yet been completed.

Discovery News reported the results of some chemical analysis of the cream and quoted Erika Ribechini, a researcher at the department of chemistry and industrial chemistry of Pisa University, as saying: “The content of the cosmetic case was found under a clay layer which deposited throughout time. This made it possible for the ointment to survive despite (the fact that) the vessel had no cap. This is almost unique in archaeology. Even though more than 2,000 years have passed, the oxidation of the organic material has not yet been completed.”

This modern retailer of moringa oil may now have to update their web site, which says the oil has a stable shelf life of just five years. How about changing this to 2,000 years plus?