Jewelry and makeup in ancient Iran

By: Hedieh Ghavidel
Achaemenid Jewelry

Archaeological finds in Iran show that women and men applied makeup and arrayed themselves with ornaments approximately 10,000 years ago, a trend which began from religious convictions rather than mere beautification motivations.

Archaeologists have discovered various instruments of make-up and ornamental items in the Burnt City, which date back to the third millennium BCE.

The caves of the Bakhtiari region, where the first hunter-gatherers settled at the end of the ice age, have yielded not only stone tools, daggers and grindstones but also several stones covered with red ocher.

Parthian goat-shaped vessel
As no cave paintings have been found in this area, researchers believe the people of this era painted their faces and bodies with ocher.

Other caves in Kermanshah have also yielded several samples of animal bones with traces of paint. Again, as the cave walls are undecorated, it can be inferred that the residents used these bones as ornaments.

The tombs found in Kerman have all yielded white powder made of lead or silver suggesting the people of this region were the first to use white powder for beautification purposes.

Jewelry found in the Burnt City, Iran
Archaeologists also believe that both women and men used a red powder found inside small saucer-like vessels unearthed in some tombs to redden their cheeks.

The masks and statues unearthed at Haft Tappeh in Khuzestan, show the people of the time blackened and extended their eyebrows, reddened their lips and cheeks and lined their eyes up to the eyebrows.

Archaeological finds dating back to the first millennium BCE, show the diversity and abundance of cosmetics and ornaments in this period, suggesting that this era was the peak of the art of decoration and makeup in Iran.


A Parthian Gold Bead
Ten thousand year old discoveries from a number of caves, especially Mazandaran's Huto and Kamarband caves and Kermanshah's Bisotoun Cave, reveal that women and men adorned themselves with pelts, shells, colorful stones and the teeth and bones of hunted animals.

Metal, bone, shell, stone and glass rings, bracelets, armlets, anklets, hair and dress pins, circlets, chokers, ornamental buttons, various ear and fingernail cleaning tools are among the frequent finds from this era.


Persian carnelian bead bracelet (500-300 BCE)
Agate, pearls and other semi-precious stones have been discovered in the Burnt City, and the quantity of unearthed necklaces, bracelets and rings show that the inhabitants were fully aware of the value of ornaments and their application.

Archaeological excavations in central Iran at Tappeh Si Arg in Kashan and Tappeh Hessar in Damghan have unveiled the same extent of makeup materials and ornamental ware.

Decorative beads made from pearl, turquoise, copper, silver, gold and unbaked or baked lime from 4,600 BCE to 1,800 BCE are the most frequent finds at these sites.

Seal showing a Persian defeating a Grecian warrior
Rings, necklaces, crowns, earrings, foot ornaments, bracelets and even metal beads adorned with what is thought to be family insignia all testify to the mastery of their artisans.

Tappeh Hessar graves, even those belonging to children, all contain an array of such objects.

Cave dwellers used water as the first mirror. Gradually as man learned to melt and polish metals, he crafted mirrors.


A pair of Gold Earrings ( 500-300 BCE)
The oldest man-made mirrors discovered, which date back 4500 years, have been found mostly in Ilam, Luristan and Azarbaijan and are ornamented with mythological figures carved into their handles and backs.

In the excavation of the Sassanid tombs of Azarbaijan, two sheets of glass with tar and silver-coated backs were discovered, which archaeologists believe were used like modern mirrors.

These sheets of glass/ancient mirrors like many other Iranian treasures from the past have been housed in the British Museum.


An Achaemenid seal housed in the Louvre depicts a fully made-up aristocratic woman looking at her reflection in a mirror while a maid presents her with a hairpiece.

The first combs found in Burnt City excavations are as old as 4,700 years and are mostly wooden with embossed decorations.

Studies suggest the women of Sistan used combs for both decoration and functional means.

Persepolis image
One ancient statue shows a queen with her hair collected behind her head in a crescent.

Archaeologists believe women used the various springs found in the tombs in Ilam's Poshtkoh cemetery to wrap their hair. Hair wrappers with a bejeweled middle or outside rod have also been discovered in Ilam's Chenar graveyard.

Persepolis images suggest kings and soldiers used extensions in their beards and hair.


Achaemenid white agate bead necklace ( 550-330 BCE)
Parthians wore pendants, tiny pins, rings, circlets, perfume, precious stones and clay or glass beads to banish ill omens.

Sassanid women were so attached to makeup and ornaments that they were often buried with them. In this era, the use of semi-precious ornamental objects became popular, an example of which is the belt buckle adorned with pink agate which is housed at the Wisebaden Museum.



Sassanid carnelian stamp seal
Achaemenid jewelry was decorated with mythological, plant and animal shapes. For example, bracelets were thin and the two ends were adorned by lion, ram, goose, deer or snake heads.

The intricacy of some of the jewelry unearthed still amazes archaeologists as to how people from ancient times designed and produced ornaments of such delicacy.

Comments (no limit): 

The civilization of mankind starts with the history of Iran!

Dorood to Iran, Iranians and Farhange Iran
It's time for Iranians to be true Iranian