Ptolemaic mascara

In the Nubian Museum in Aswan I saw this display of thin palettes sliced from schist.

I have wasted far too much time trying to figure out what that bottom figure is. It’s got a tail, sort of, but it also has a beak, sort of. Bird or fish, take your pick.
Naturally I would fall in love with the fish.

The schist palettes were used to grind the mineral stibnite into the powder known as kohl, which Egyptians used as eyeliner from about 3000 BC on. We were about to see kohl eyeliner on many, many images of pharaohs and gods both. Below is the goddess Ma’at, as you can see by the Feather of Ma’at she has tucked into her hairband. Or it could be her avatar on earth, the current Pharaoh. Again, take your pick.

So of course I had to write the schist palette into Theft of an Idol.

There was at least one hand mirror on every shelf, where there was room. Boxes and jars and phials and brushes and pots and flasks crowded every horizontal space in tandem with small thin palettes of black stone carved into the shapes of fish and birds, used for grinding the galena from Syene into the black liner used to elongate the eyes of men and women both, of every level of society. 

I did wonder if the black eyeliner was for more than fashion. Egypt gets a lot of sun. Perhaps rimming your eyes with black would reduce the glare. Sort of paint-on sunglasses.

The third Eye of Isis novel publishes on November 3, 2022.
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Chatter Eye of Isis

Dana View All →

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4 Comments Leave a comment

      • Ooops! I must have been thinking of the Dugong, a close relative of the manatee that would have been found in the Arabian Sea, even up into the Red Sea. They have a short, broad trunk-like nose and a fluked tail.
        Anyhow, “sea cow” was the first critter that popped into my mind when I saw the bottom figure in the picture, LOL.

  1. You see football players with black lines under their eyes, supposedly to reduce glare. Why might the ancient Egyptians not have been doing the same thing?

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