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Red Cake-Like Material

Report: Possible Cosmetics

These are the items discussed in this section:

Red Cake

The red wafer.

Mondaine compact
Mondaine compact purchased for comparison.

This section is a compilation of two different reports, which also cover other materials. PDFs of the full reports will be mounted soon.

2-8-S-39 & Mondaine Compact

Artifact 2-8-S-39 was the subject of analysis in two stages. In the first step, it was analyzed for elemental makeup; in the second, it was looked at in comparison with the Mondaine compact purchased on eBay for that purpose. The Purdue University Library Special Collections has among its Earhart holdings a Mondaine compact which belonged to her and was donated with other effects to the Library by George Putnam. The small compact we purchased was new and unused; the cellophane protecting the makeup was still intact (see photo above). It dates from the 1930s.

From Report 71:

Red Wafer Analysis: XRF analysis of the wafer revealed that it is primarily inorganic and the major components are calcium, barium, iron, and zinc (see Figure 1). Strontium was the only minor component, a geochemical relative of calcium and barium. The only compounds identifiable by FTIR were clay and calcium carbonate (chalk, see Figures 2 and 3). While these are natural compounds, the high barium and zinc content of this wafer suggests that it is a man-made material and that it is likely some sort of pigmented material rather than, for example, a fragment of a brick. Barium and zinc are components of white pigments/fillers that were commonly employed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Zinc oxides, kaolin clay, iron oxides are common components of cosmetics, with zinc oxide being introduced in the nineteenth century. No binder such as an oil, wax, or gum could be identified through FTIR, and Raman only confirmed the presence of calcite in the wafer. All of the elements and compounds identified in the red wafer are consistent with an early twentieth-century cosmetic.  The absence of an organic binder is unusual, but this could be a result of degradation due to burial/environmental exposure.

Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

(Click on the thumbnails above to open full-sized images in a new window.)

From Report 88:

1. Mondaine Cosmetics Compact:

    1. The pale pink ‘flesh’ cosmetic is composed of zinc, calcium, potassium, and iron-containing compounds. The main molecular constituents include kaolin clay (Al2Si2O5(OH4)), aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate, CaCO3). The zinc containing component was identified by the fine structure of the carbonate band in the FTIR, which suggests that a zinc carboxylate compound such as zinc stearate or zinc octanoate is present. This type of compound, formed from the reaction of zinc with animal fats, is a common early 20th century cosmetic component and has recently been identified in a late 19th c. cosmetic at Winterthur.
    2. The dark pink ‘medium’ cosmetic is composed primarily of iron, calcium, and zinc. The main molecular constituents of this cosmetic are kaolin clay, the aragonite form of calcium carbonate, and iron oxide red, which is in part responsible for its pink color. There also appears to be a red organic dye present in this cosmetic, and liquid chromatography would be required for a positive identification of this material.
    3. The metal housing of the cosmetic case is made from brass, a copper and zinc alloy.
pale pink analysis
medium analysis
pale spectrum
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
medium spectrum
Raman spectrum medium
Raman spectrum pale
Figure 8
Figure 9

Click on the thumbnails above to open each chart in a new window.

Results and Conclusions

1. Red cake-like material (2-8-S-39)

1. The red interior of this material is comprised of an iron-containing compound, and the black crust on the exterior is comprised of a calcium-containing compound. Raman analysis reveals that the red compound is iron oxide red, Fe2O3. FTIR analysis reveals that the calcium-containing compound in the black crust is bone ash, calcium hydroxyapatite or Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2. Calcium carbonate is also present. This suggests the presence of burned human or animal remains at this archaeological site.

crust analysis
Figure 10
cake spectrum
Figure 11
FTIR red cake
Figure 12
FTIR crust
Figure 13
combined graph
Figure 14

Figure 15

raman 1
Figure 16

Overlay 1


This chart is an overlay of four different charts: Figures 1, 4, 5, and 11, above, corrected to the same scale by Dr. Mass. The red in the chart is from artifact 2-8-S-37, a chunk of red cake-like material. The green is from 2-8-S-39, another chunk of red cake-like material. The blue is from the lighter cosmetic in the Mondaine compact purchased for comparison, and the pink is from the darker cosmetic from the Mondaine compact. There is a strong correspondence in the peaks which leads us to conclude that the red wafers are the remnants of cosmetic.


The chunks of red cake-like material were found at the Seven Site, a part of Nikumaroro which is remote from the village and the main traffic of life on the island. There was an attempt to plant coconuts in the area; we believe that this planting was the source of the water tank which first led us to the site. In the spring of 1940 a human skull was found by a work party. Gerald Gallagher, Officer-In-Charge, later learned of the discovery and conducted a search, during which he found the partial skeleton of a castaway.


I-Kiribati women did not use cosmetics in the 1930s, and certainly not in colors related to European skin tones. During the Colonial period, very few European women visited Nikumaroro, and none is known to have visited the Seven Site. The Coast Guard personnel did visit the site, but none has reported any use of makeup or other material which might mimic makeup. This leaves the castaway.

Object Descriptions and Reason for Analysis

• OBJECT DESCRIPTIONS (form, material, color, etc): The objects submitted for analysis are archaeological material excavated from the Republic of Kiribati and reference material related to the Kiribati artifacts. They include: artifact 2-8-S-37, a red wafer; artifact 2-8-S-39 (a dark red flat cake with a black crust), and a Mondaine cosmetic case containing two items, a dark pink rouge labeled ‘Medium’ and a very pale pink pressed foundation powder labeled ‘flesh’.

• REASON FOR ANALYSIS: Could these objects have an early twentieth-century American provenance? Could they have been manufactured prior to 7/2/37? Specific questions include: Is the composition of the red concretion consistent with that of a cosmetic? If so, is its composition consistent with an early twentieth-century provenance? What is the composition of the two cosmetics in the Mondaine compact? How do they relate to the composition of the red cake-like material found on the Kiribati site?

• SAMPLING: Microgram sized samples were removed from the ‘medium’ and ‘flesh’ powders in the compact for FTIR and Raman analysis using a #11 steel scalpel blade. Samples were removed from the black concretion on the red cake for FTIR analysis also using a size 11 steel scalpel blade. All samples for chemical analysis were transferred to glass containers to prevent contamination prior to analysis. All other analyses were performed nondestructively.

• ANALYSIS PROTOCOL: X-ray fluorescence analysis was used to identify the elemental compositions of the red cakes and the Mondaine compact contents. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) was used to identify the molecular composition of the Mondaine compact contents and the black crust on the red cake. Raman spectroscopy was used to identify the molecular composition of the Mondaine compact contents and the red cakes.

Click HERE for a PDF of Report 71. (2.1 MB)
Click HERE for a PDF of Report 88. (2.2 MB)

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