Triple Kohl Tube

By
Ashley Fiutko Arico
Ashley Fiutko Arico received her Ph.D. in Egyptian Art and Archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins in 2017. Her dissertation examined Egyptian statuary excavated in the Levant.
,
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.
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 440; 1550-30 BCE; Faience; H 10.4 cm x W 5.2 cm x D 2.0 cm

Triple Kohl Tube, ECM 440, Faience, paint, New Kingdom or later, ca. 1550 BCE or later,  H 10.4 cm x W 5.2 cm x D 2.0 cm

 

Description

Kohl tubes representing hollow reeds, either singly or in bundles of as many as seven, first became popular during the New Kingdom. These multi-tube examples accommodated the storage of different types of eye-paint, either in different colors (black or green) or for different occasions. For instance, the individual sections of triple kohl tubes similar to this one are often labeled with the name of one of the three Egyptian seasons, indicating when they were to be used. This container is molded from faience with a vibrant blue glaze. Decorative bands, added in black glaze (manganese), run around the vessel. The cosmetics within the vessel would have been removed from the container using a thin applicator (see ECM 2011). Study of this object using x-rays revealed scrapes in the lead-based kohl that still adheres to the interior of the vessel, providing evidence of such use. In addition to its purely cosmetic use, kohl also aided in reducing glare from the sun and could even be used to treat a variety of eye ailments.

Technical Research

An x-ray of the kohl tube shows different quantities of a radio-opaque material (white in this image) still present in the tubes.

An x-ray of the kohl tube shows different quantities of a radio-opaque material (white in this image) still present in the tubes.

X-rays of the object show the presence of a more dense material (which appears white) on the inside of the tubes. Undergraduate students Ella Cammarato and Debbie Kim worked with Sanchita Balachandran to conduct x-ray fluorescence analysis on the tube openings, all of which confirmed the presence of the heavy metal lead, which is the primary component of kohl. The different amounts of lead present in the tubes may be consistent with the suggestion that not all of the tubes of kohl were used simultaneously. Further examination showed that this faience object was glazed with a copper-based blue-green glaze and painted with a black manganese-based colorant. The object has numerous cracks that were previously repaired at least twice in modern times with both a granular fill material as well as a wax-like material.