Last year, while excavating a 2,000-year-old Roman temple in London, archaeologists discovered a small tin canister filled with white cream. In the Nov. 4 Nature, chemists who have examined the cream conclude that it is an ancient cosmetic face cream.
Analyses of the white material disclosed its ingredients: animal fat, starch, and tin oxide. The animal fat probably came from a cow or a sheep, the starch would have come from boiled roots or grains, and the tin oxide would have come from heated tin, says Richard Evershed of the University of Bristol in England. Because 15 percent of the cream was tin oxide and the interior of the canister showed no sign of deterioration, he and his colleagues inferred that the tin oxide served as a white pigment to make the skin look more fair.