Beauty secrets of the ancients

Even our neanderthal ancestors appear to have used cosmetics. So what does that say about us?

It has been a big week in the world of make-up anthropology. First was the discovery that -Cleopatra's smoky eyes, immortalised on screen by Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film co-starring Richard Burton, and now the most requested look in make-up (the YouTube tutorial has had nearly two million hits), was also about protecting eyes from infection. A study carried out by -researchers at the Louvre Museum in Paris -revealed that the eyeliner that the ancient Egyptian queen would have used contained small amounts of lead salts, which help to protect against eye disease. Then came the revelation that our Neanderthal ancestors started, around 50,000 years ago, to develop their own form of make-up, including a type of foundation. The discovery of shells -containing pigment residue was made in two archaeological sites in southern Spain by a team of scientists. "This is the first secure evidence for the Neanderthals' use of cosmetics," said Professor Joao -Zilhao, an -archaeologist from Bristol -University in the UK, who led the study, to the BBC. "It's more than body painting." For those who see wearing make-up as a frivolity or something to make women feel better about themselves, this is -illuminating. It is, if both studies are to be believed, merely part of our animal instinct, as much a part of our hairy forebears' daily to-do list as hunting, gathering and just plain surviving. And later, as our knowledge of medicine began to grow, a way of improving our health. Less instinctive, perhaps, is our modern tendency to own at least 10 types of eyeshadow, three foundations and 14 lip glosses. Then again, who is to say that if Cleopatra could have got her hands on this season's new Juicy Tube, she wouldn't have done the same?

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