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Cosmetic grinders is the term given to a distinctive type of small, two-piece, crescent-shaped, copper-alloy set, found almost exclusively in Britain, and first identified by the author in the early 1980s (R.Jackson ‘Cosmetic sets from Late Iron Age and Roman Britain’, Britannia 16, 1985, pp. 165-92; R.Jackson ‘The function and manufacture of Romano-British cosmetic grinders: two important new finds from London’, Antiquaries Journal 73, 1993, pp. 165-9).
The earliest examples date to the late Iron Age, but the majority were made and used when Britain was a province of Rome.
The sets consist of a grooved mortar and a solid rod-like pestle and were evidently used for preparing very small quantities of a powdered substance, probably eye-shadow or other cosmetics. They vary greatly in size and in how elaborate they are, perhaps reflecting the importance of individuality in the selection of such a personal belonging. Bull heads are a favoured motif for the mortar terminals, while many suspension loops are modelled as stylised duck or swan heads. The sets are a key part of the artefactual evidence demonstrating the increased attention paid to personal appearance and the portrayal of self at this time. With almost 200 examples, the British Museum has an un-rivalled collection for display and study purposes.