Although most cultures across North Africa painted their eyes, the black outline around an almond eye has become a trademark image of the Egyptians. This kohl makeup was not merely an aesthetic choice for both men and women alike; it also had a practical purpose.

Unknown, Cosmetic pot with girl, 12th Dynasty, c.1963-1787 BCE, British Museum, London.

Unknown, Cosmetic pot with girl, 12th Dynasty, c.1963-1787 BCE, British Museum, London.

In the desert, the black makeup relieved some of the sun’s glare and around the marshy area of the Nile Delta, flies were endemic. To keep insects and bacteria out of their eyes, Egyptians used kohl made of powdered minerals and oils that contained harmful properties and sometimes soot that irritated the eye making it water and keeping it clean.

Since kohl needed a place to be mixed and kept safe, there have been many cosmetic pots recovered from ancient Egypt decorated with different types of figures. However, as a sort of predecessor of a makeup kit, this figure of a young girl holds the kohl pot for her owner.

This girl is well put together to demonstrate some sort of ideal or perhaps she is just a servant. She has an elaborate hairstyle with a braid going down her back, tied with a fish pendant. She wears a belt with a cowry shell pedant, which were used as protective amulets during pregnancy. We do not know to whom this pot belonged, but likely it was a girl of great importance.

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