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Tabard Square Roman cosmetic secrets revealed

A mysterious Roman pot of ointment found during excavations at Tabard Square was used as a cosmetic, according to a Bristol University study.

Scientists analysed the cream and found it to be made from animal fat, starch and tin oxide. They replicated the substance with the same recipe and found that their own version of this second century AD cosmetic leaves a smooth, powdery texture when rubbed into the skin.

The plain 6cm by 5cm pot caused great excitement when it was found by archaeologists at the Tabard Square site last summer. Marks left by the last fingers to use the cream pot were still visible on the lid.

Various suggestions were offered as to the cream's purpose, including toothpaste, a barrier cream and even something ritualistic that was smeared on goats before they were killed.

Now the Bristol researchers are pretty sure the cosmetic explanation is the best.

"I have a Petri dish full of it in my office," says Professor Richard Evershed. "If you take a little out, it feels like slightly stiff Polyfilla. If you start rubbing it in, it feels greasy initially. Then as the fat gets into your skin, it gets powdery."

The 1.2 hectare Tabard Square dig revealed the remains of two square, Romano-Celtic temples and a large piazza. It is rare evidence of organised religion in London 2,000 years ago.

Its other major discovery was a white marble inscription with a dedication to the god Mars Camulos. The relic refers to "Londiniensium", meaning "of the people of Londinium".

This is the earliest known reference to London's Roman name.

The Tabard Square site is being covered over by a Berkeley Homes development.

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