January 11, 2010
Cleopatra may have rocked a mean cat eye, but she wasn't history's first style icon. Scientists say that title may belong to Neanderthals who lived over 50,000 years ago.
Professor Joao Zilhao, an archaeologist from Bristol University in the UK, and his team say that two shells containing pigment residues were unearthed at two archaeological sites in the Murcia province of southern Spain.
Along with the ancient pigment-coated shells, the team uncovered black sticks of manganese.
"[But] this is the first secure evidence for their use of cosmetics," he told BBC News. "The use of these complex recipes is new. It's more than body painting."
Later on, archaeologists found lumps of a yellow pigment possibly used as a foundation, and a red powder mixed with flecks of a reflective brilliant black mineral (used as eye shadow, perhaps?).
The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists think the cavemen may have also worn the brightly colored shells as jewelry.
Zilhao told BBC News, "The association of these findings with Neanderthals is rock-solid and people have to draw the associations and bury this view of Neanderthals as half-wits."
Professor Chris Stringer, a paleontologist from the Natural History Museum in London, UK, agrees that this discovery helps disprove the view that Neanderthals were feebleminded.
"It's very difficult to dislodge the brutish image from popular thinking," Professor Stringer told BBC News. "When football fans behave badly, or politicians advocate reactionary views, they are invariably called 'Neanderthal', and I can't see the tabloids changing their headlines any time soon."
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