Metal Applicator

By
Debbie Kim
Debbie is a Public Health Studies major in the Class of 2021.
,
Ella Cammarato
Ella is an Archaeology major in the Class of 2019.
,
Margaret Swaney
Meg Swaney is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University studying Egyptian Art and Archaeology. She also holds a master's degree in Museum Studies from New York University ('13), where her research focused on the ethics of displaying Egyptian mummies, as well as a bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Chicago ('11).
and
Sanchita Balachandran
Sanchita Balachandran is the Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies. She teaches courses related to the identification and analysis of ancient manufacturing techniques of objects, as well as the history, ethics and practice of museum conservation.
ECM 2011

Kohl Stick, ECM 2011, Metal, copper alloy, New Kingdom, ca. 1550-1069 BCE, L 8.2 cm x D 0.5 cm

 

Description

This object can be identified as a kohl stick (cosmetic applicator) due to its characteristic shape; one end tapers to a point while the other flares in thickness towards a rounded end that would have been grasped while applying eye-paint. Kohl sticks, which could be made of metal–as is this example–wood, or stone, were used to retrieve different ground minerals from cosmetic tubes (such as ECM 1790, ECM 440, and JHUAM 3858) or jars (such as ECM 431) and to apply these minerals around the eyes. The most common substances used as eye-paint were malachite (green) and galena (the more common kohl black). While malachite was primarily cosmetic, kohl had additional functional and medicinal purposes. The black color helped to reflect the glare of the sun while its lead content repelled flies and was fatal to the small organism that can cause eye disease and blindness. Because of the large amounts of standing water from the Nile and irrigation canals, eye diseases born by flying insects were a common problem for the ancient Egyptians.

Technical Research

Based on a study by undergraduates Ella Cammarato and Debbie Kim, the metal applicator was likely cast and possibly later cold-worked to form it into its shape. Portable x-ray fluorescence analysis suggests that this is a copper alloy, most likely bronze due to the presence of tin in the alloy.