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Archaeology: Ancient Chinese noblemen used cosmetics made from animal fat and cave ‘milk’ 

Chinese noblemen were using cosmetics made from animal fat and cave ‘milk’ on their faces some 2,700 years ago, a study has reported.

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences excavated a nobleman’s tomb — filled with assorted grave goods — at the Liujiawa site in northern China.

During the so-called ‘Spring and Autumn’ period (771–476 BC) — before China was unified by the Qin dynasty — Liujiawa was the capital of a vassal state named Rui. 

Amid the nobleman’s possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream.

Chinese noblemen were using cosmetics made from animal fat and cave 'milk' on their faces some 2,700 years ago, a study has reported. Pictured, the ornate jar containing the remains of the face cream dating back to China's so-called 'Spring and Autumn' period (771–476 BC)

Chinese noblemen were using cosmetics made from animal fat and cave ‘milk’ on their faces some 2,700 years ago, a study has reported. Pictured, the ornate jar containing the remains of the face cream dating back to China’s so-called ‘Spring and Autumn’ period (771–476 BC)

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences excavated a nobleman's tomb — filled with assorted grave goods — at the Liujiawa dig site in northern China. Amid the nobleman's possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream, pictured

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences excavated a nobleman's tomb — filled with assorted grave goods — at the Liujiawa dig site in northern China. Amid the nobleman's possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream, pictured

Experts from the Chinese Academy of Sciences excavated a nobleman’s tomb — filled with assorted grave goods — at the Liujiawa dig site in northern China. Amid the nobleman’s possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream, pictured

According to the researchers, they immediately suspected that the soft, yellow-white material in the ornate bronze jar — pictured after being cleaned up — was a cosmetic cream

According to the researchers, they immediately suspected that the soft, yellow-white material in the ornate bronze jar — pictured after being cleaned up — was a cosmetic cream

According to the researchers, they immediately suspected that the soft, yellow-white material in the ornate bronze jar — pictured after being cleaned up — was a cosmetic cream

According to the researchers, they immediately suspected that the soft, yellow-white material in the ornate bronze jar was a cosmetic cream.

This was confirmed by chemical analyses, which identified the two main ingredients as being fat from a well-fed ruminant animal — most likely cattle reared in pens — and a white, creamy substance known as moonmilk.

Moonmilk is a soft plastic carbonate mud, that dries into a powder, that forms on the ceilings of certain limestone and dolomite-based cave systems. 

‘The residue, made of ruminant adipose fat mixed with monohydrocalcite coming from cave moonmilk, was likely used as cosmetic face cream by the nobleman of ancient Rui State,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

‘This work provides an early example of cosmetic production in China and, together with the prevalence of similar cosmetic containers during this period, suggests the rise of an incipient cosmetics industry.’

The cream, the team said, would have made the user’s face white — and may have represented either a way for the wearer to stand out, or else an influence of the early Taoist Schools of religion which believed that caves minerals had magic properties. 

Amid the nobleman's possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream. Pictured, an aerial view of the excavated tomb, with the location of the cosmetics jar highlighted in red

Amid the nobleman's possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream. Pictured, an aerial view of the excavated tomb, with the location of the cosmetics jar highlighted in red

Amid the nobleman’s possessions were characteristic bronze funerary weapons and also an ornate bronze jar containing the remains of the ancient face cream. Pictured, an aerial view of the excavated tomb, with the location of the cosmetics jar highlighted in red

According to the researchers, this face cream is the earliest known example from China to have been associated with a man — with the next oldest examples dating from the Three Kingdoms Period (from 220–280 AD), a millennia later. Pictured, a graph of the artefacts found in the tomb, with the nobleman's remains centre and the cosmetics jar highlighted in red

According to the researchers, this face cream is the earliest known example from China to have been associated with a man — with the next oldest examples dating from the Three Kingdoms Period (from 220–280 AD), a millennia later. Pictured, a graph of the artefacts found in the tomb, with the nobleman's remains centre and the cosmetics jar highlighted in red

According to the researchers, this face cream is the earliest known example from China to have been associated with a man — with the next oldest examples dating from the Three Kingdoms Period (from 220–280 AD), a millennia later. Pictured, a graph of the artefacts found in the tomb, with the nobleman’s remains centre and the cosmetics jar highlighted in red

'The residue, made of ruminant adipose fat mixed with monohydrocalcite coming from cave moonmilk, was likely used as cosmetic face cream by the nobleman of ancient Rui State,' the researchers wrote in their paper. Pictured: two parts of the cream seen under the microscope

'The residue, made of ruminant adipose fat mixed with monohydrocalcite coming from cave moonmilk, was likely used as cosmetic face cream by the nobleman of ancient Rui State,' the researchers wrote in their paper. Pictured: two parts of the cream seen under the microscope

‘The residue, made of ruminant adipose fat mixed with monohydrocalcite coming from cave moonmilk, was likely used as cosmetic face cream by the nobleman of ancient Rui State,’ the researchers wrote in their paper. Pictured: two parts of the cream seen under the microscope

Moonmilk is a soft plastic carbonate mud, that dries into a powder, that forms on the ceilings of certain limestone and dolomite-based cave systems, as pictured

Moonmilk is a soft plastic carbonate mud, that dries into a powder, that forms on the ceilings of certain limestone and dolomite-based cave systems, as pictured

Moonmilk is a soft plastic carbonate mud, that dries into a powder, that forms on the ceilings of certain limestone and dolomite-based cave systems, as pictured

According to the researchers, this face cream is the earliest known example from China to have been associated with a man — with the next oldest examples dating from the Three Kingdoms Period (from 220–280 AD), a millennia later.

In contrast, evidence for the use of cosmetics in China by women goes back much further. In 2016, for example, the researchers found red cosmetic sticks which were thought to have been used between around 1980–1450 BC.

In Africa, meanwhile, ancient Egyptians were thought to be using cosmetic as early as 2,000 BC.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Archaeometry.

'This work provides an early example of cosmetic production in China and, together with the prevalence of similar cosmetic containers during this period, suggests the rise of an incipient cosmetics industry,' the experts wrote. Pictured, the Liujiawa site, with the tomb highlighted

'This work provides an early example of cosmetic production in China and, together with the prevalence of similar cosmetic containers during this period, suggests the rise of an incipient cosmetics industry,' the experts wrote. Pictured, the Liujiawa site, with the tomb highlighted

‘This work provides an early example of cosmetic production in China and, together with the prevalence of similar cosmetic containers during this period, suggests the rise of an incipient cosmetics industry,’ the experts wrote. Pictured, the Liujiawa site, with the tomb highlighted

During the so-called 'Spring and Autumn' period (771–476 BC) — before China was unified by the Qin dynasty — Liujiawa was the capital of a vassal state named Rui

During the so-called 'Spring and Autumn' period (771–476 BC) — before China was unified by the Qin dynasty — Liujiawa was the capital of a vassal state named Rui

During the so-called ‘Spring and Autumn’ period (771–476 BC) — before China was unified by the Qin dynasty — Liujiawa was the capital of a vassal state named Rui


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