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Teotihuacan study shows prehispanic civilisations honoured dead with cosmetics

By Andrew MCDOUGALL , 11-Jan-2013
Last updated on 16-Jan-2013 at 09:21 GMT

A study into Mayan culture has found that prehispanic civilisations on the American continent used cosmetics as part of the after-death ritual to honour its most important figures of society.

In collaboration with the National University of Mexico, a team of Spanish researchers analysed remains of cosmetics in the graves of the Teotihuacans, having researched Mayan wall paintings in Mexico and Guatemala since 2006.

The research team from the Polytechnic University of Valencia and the University of Valencia studied various funerary samples found in urns in the Teotihuacan archaeological site in Mexico, that date from between 200 and 500 AD.

The study relates to work carried out by researches from the University of Mexico, who wanted to know the composition and function of the cosmetics found in pots.

Ritual

"The conclusion that we have reached, given the structure of the pigments found, is that they are remains of cosmetics that were used in rituals following burial,” explains María Teresa Domenech Carbo, director of the University Institute of Heritage Restoration of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

“At that time it was common to periodically practice a kind of remembrance worship of the deceased high nobility.”

In these rituals the high priest of the city would conduct a ceremony in the dwelling of the most noble of citizens as graves, who were buried underneath the floor of their homes.

"The priest would go to the home and would pay homage to the deceased with the family present. Cosmetics were used by the priest carrying out the ceremony and formed a part of the ritual,” Domenech.

“The remains of carbonaceous particles found lead to the belief that aromatic material were burnt, with the priest painting parts of the body with those pigments. In addition, it is probable that the body was removed and 'redecorated' too.”

Symbolic

The researchers also point out that as the make-up in the urns did not contain any agglutinative substance, it may have had more of a symbolic nature.

"It is not very frequent to find cosmetic products in archaeological excavations in America. These are the first on this continent to be analysed in a serious and systematic way," ensures the researcher.

In Europe and Africa, mainly in countries such as Italy and Egypt, the analysis of cosmetic products is more common.

Teotihuacan is one of the most important and most visited archaeological sites in Mexico thanks to its close location to Mexico City and its spectacular great Mayan pyramid.

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