Warning! This post contains a lot of images of dead people. I’ve edited out the scarier ones, but it’s not for the squeamish.
Fairly recently, a very well qualified lady called Joann Fletcher carried out a very thorough study of just about all the mummy hair found in Egyptian tombs. In an interview she said..
As the ancient nits on their tiny-toothed combs will attest, real Egyptians were plagued by infestations of scalp-biting bugs. Real Egyptians cropped their curls and even shaved their heads for the sake of hygiene: specifically, to remove the habitat of lice. And quite clearly, they also loved elaborate hairstyles, and went to great lengths to adorn themselves with wigs, false braids and hair extensions.”
“Quite often, the more elaborate and ornate styles were worn by men.” The shaven-headed bodies are not always men, as some would suspect. Ancient Egyptians didn’t use hair length to distinguish gender.”
“Nor was the practice of creating fancy ‘dos restricted to elites. In excavations of manual laborers, we found elaborate styles that couldn’t be created by the wearer alone; amazingly elaborate hairstyles.”
Hair is invaluable in the study of general day-to-day living conditions, as well as supplying information on diet and disease. A cursory examination of its surface structure can provide a certain amount of information on general health, while more detailed analysis of the elemental hair concentrations can help to establish dietary intake, revealing traces of any nutritional deficiencies and/or diseases.
To begin with the most obvious factor, hair can be looked at simply in terms of its style, which may indicate the way it had been dressed during the funerary process, or, alternatively, how an individual had chosen to wear it in life. However, it is most important to bear in mind that both men and women (in ancient Egypt) adopted a wide range of hair styles, ranging from a shaven head to long flowing locks. Many an archaeologist has failed to realize that gender cannot be determined on hair length alone. This failure has resulted in some rather curious conclusions, comparable to the way in which an individual is automatically assumed to have held religious office simply on the grounds of having a shaven head!
In addition to its style, the color, texture, type, and general condition of the hair can also be examined. Hair color is a fascinating study in itself, and the wide range of shades portrayed in Egyptian art does, to a large extent, reflect the diverse range found in reality. The most common hair color then, as now, was a very dark brown, almost black color, although natural auburn and even (rather surprisingly) blonde hair are also to be found. With their great fondness for elaboration, the Egyptians’ skillful use of dyes has produced yet further shades for us to study, analysis showing many to be various forms of henna, which even an aged Rameses II had used regularly to rejuvenate his white hair.
The vast majority of hair samples discovered at the site were cynotrichous (Caucasian) in type as opposed to heliotrichous (Negroid), a feature which is standard through dynastic times . . .
Close inspection revealed that the natural hair (from the grave of a woman), of slightly more than shoulder-length, had been augmented with a considerable number of artificial lengths of false hair, very reminiscent of modern dreadlocks, meticulously worked into the natural hair to create an imposing high coiffure. The complex styling techniques made it clear that her particular hairstyle was the result of many hours of careful work carried out by someone other than herself. This particular discovery is therefore extremely significant as it is the earliest evidence for the use of false hair in Egypt (if not the whole of the ancient world), predating previous examples by at least 500 years.
And, if this wasn’t sufficient, the same lady also provided us with the earliest evidence for the use of hair dye. Indepth examination showed a contrast between the auburn cast of her dark brown hair and a smaller number of unpigmented white strands of hair associated with the aging process. The unpigmented hair had been turned the bright orange color typical of henna, a vegetable dye made from the powdered leaves of the shrub Lawsonia inermis. This shrub grows yet in the area and is still used for the same purpose by the local population, who kindly showed us where the best henna bushes were to be found
Although most of the hair found is the natural dark brown color, natural red hair was also discovered in association with male Burial No. 79, his hair originally falling in a wavy style ending in small ringlet-type open-center curls. Together with other burials, this reveals the great attention paid to appearance, the hair obviously of great importance to both men and women alike. There were clearly a great range of styles by this early date, from extremely short crops little more than I cm long as noted in Burial No. 76 (a female of c.25-30 years) to longer styles, as demonstrated by the large quantity of dark brown wavy hair set in partially twisted lengths recovered intact in association with Burial No. 91. Although the hair itself was discovered completely detached from the skull, it was possible to determine that it would originally have been set at shoulder length.
The best preserved hair, however, was found in the well padded Burial No. 85 (nicknamed Paddy), a female of c.20-25 years of age. Careful removal of the upper layers of matting and linen pads allowed the hair to be preserved intact on the head, particularly the delicate free-hanging hair ends around the shoulder area that give the most accurate idea of the original hair length. Further study back in the lab revealed an original shoulder length style of natural waves, extending c.22 cm from the crown, with a left side parting and an asymmetrical fringe made up of S-shape curls bordering the eyes. In addition to the excellent preservation of Paddy’s cranial hair, her right eyebrow had also survived intact beneath the layers of protective wrappings,
Further facial hair recovered in association with the redheaded man in Burial No. 79 appears to have been cut with a sharp blade, while analysis of one mass of hair discovered last season proved to be an almost complete beard, possibly the oldest surviving example yet found! Body hair was also found during both seasons, including underarm and pubic hair.
For the complete J Fletcher article on mummy hair go here
So I’ve decided to put a few images of mummy hair up for inspection. Firts of all Gingers hair… I shall try to post a better close up the next time I visit the BM.
He has sandy coloured lightly curly hair. SInce he was buried in the sand it is quite possible his hair has lightened somewhat.
You can get a decent look at Ramses II hair here. The L’Oreal institite plucked out one of hairs to examine the roots, and found it to be naturallyauburn when he was younger (even grey hair retains pigment in the roots). It was hennaed in his old age to match the colour of his youth. He is descibed as having cynotrichous wavy Caucasian red hair.
These are the mummies of Tuya and Yuya. The gold hair colour is as a result of the mummification process used, but you can clearly see they both have straight/wavy hair.
Queen Hatshetsut, again very fine wavy hair. The colour is probably due to henna on grey hair
This is ‘the elder lady’. As can be easily seen she has long slightly curly fine hair.
This is the Nubian prince Maiherpri, and the Lady Rai, both with more Afro hair. Maiherpri’s hair is actually a naturalistic wig
And here are some cropped images of mummy hair from the Cairo museum mummy catalog. I’m afraid names are a bit hit and miss, as they are named in French on the pages.
Saqnunri (hair only) and Queen Anhapu. A close up shows that although her hair is very thick and tightly braided, it seem to be mostly wavy where it’s loose. It is mostly hair peices woven into hair own hair and tied with fine strings.
Nofretari (complete with overbite) also with an ornately braided hair. It seems to be interwoven with braided extensions, and the slight peice of her own scalp hair that can can be seen seems slighlty curly naturally.
This is Amosis and Hontimihu. The first has rather curly hair, The second has wavy hair.
Hontempet and wig. This mummy’s own hair appears to be straight, but she has a an impressively curly wig. This is one of the few mummies where you can clearly see the lighter skin colour in contrast to her hair colour. There’s a good view of the wig with its long curls
Sitkamos, with loosely curly hair, and again a good definition between skin and hair colour. Beside her is the hair of Thutmosis II, again curly/wavy.
Unknown male, with fairly straight hair. Thutmosis IV, very fine light wavy hair. It’s not seen from this view, but the mummy has a comb over to hide it’s bald crown.
Hair on a skull (the rest is a bit grim). Straight as a ruler, and fairly light coloured.
Unknown woman D, with very ornately coiffed curly hair of a lighter colour. Then Queen Nomit, with plentiful braids on her wig.
Queen Honitayu? wearing a very fussy wig. Cropped detail of a queen with tight black African curls.
The princess Nsikhonsu, with long wavy brown hair. A young prince with a ‘child lock’ of hair, which appears to be brown not black, probably a juvenille trait.
Unknown mummies, the first from the British museum morgue, one from the Hancock museum. The first is a woman from about 700 BC, and she has dead straight hair, probably hennaed. The second male head from 600 BC has short wavy fair hair.
These are two mummies from Egypt, currently in Australia. The red colour is thought to be in part due to resin, but upon close examination the head with a lot of hair appears to have naturally fair or light auburn straight hair.
Another mummy head from 2000 BC. Again fine straight hair. The second head seems to have straight hennaed hair thats been heavily braided.
This head is currently in Naples. It has long slightly wavy brown hair.
There are several studies of mummy hair, they’ve all concluded mostly European with some African influence. Even Nubian hair studies seem to be half Eurasian in the North, the same as modern Nubians.
For anyone curious, I’ve a page on racial differences in hair . It’s pretty easy to tell African and caucasian hair type apart by the shape of the cross section, colour pigment distribution and other factors. The oldest study of the Badarians ( Southern predynastic) by Eugen Strouhal concluded the hair was a mix of European and African, with overweight to the European. It seems to work well for the FBI, at any rate.
The hair differs in the upper and lower Kingdom, with the Lower Kingdom showing much less African influence than The Upper Kingdom, the same as modern Egypt.
And some images of Egyptian wigs to finish the item off. Some of these wigs were made of wool, and not human hair. The last one is a hair weave from a mummy made form the lady’s own hair. Apparently she had it cut off and woven back in again later on. It’s also coloured with henna. She seems to have had fine straight hair, proabaly a dark brown naturally.
The bust here is of Meritamun, Nefertiti’s daughter, wearing a ‘Nubian’ style wig made up of of very short tightly woven and curled braids of hair. This came into fashion about the time of Nefertiti and is seen frequently on the Amerna reliefs.
Edit to post..
To the Afrocentrists who are spamming this entry with outraged comments along the line of ‘you don’t understand African diversity’, ‘Malcolm X had red hair’, ‘some Africans have Caucasian hair,’ and ‘you’ve never been to Africa’…
The average black American is about 1/5 European, which explains why black Americans occasionally crop up with blue eyes and ginger hair (although Malcolm X only went reddish in summer, not a proper ginger).
The same goes for Caucasian textured hair in Africans. The anthropologists who’ve studied the hair came to the conclusions of mostly Caucasian (Fletcher) to almost half negroid (Eugene Strouhal called it sterotypically mulatto) of the Southern oldest samples, the Badarians. Afrocentrists please note, those Strouhal and Keita studies do not include Northern Egyptians in any way. That Strouhal study is badly misquoted from in the Keita study of Badarian crania: he claimed Strouhal observed the hair to be 80% negroid, but the Strouhal study itself says no such thing, and makes it quite clear that the Southern Egyptians were of mixed ancestry. The Keita study this quote is from even states that the North Egyptian crania are different to the Southern, a fact often ignored once the words ‘80% negroid’ are spotted. Also, try reading the other Keita work properly, it places Caucasians all over North Africa from the Oranian paleolithic onwards.
Curiously, these hair studies match the current Egyptian population, nearly half negroid at the South, Caucasian to the North. Coincidence or what?
And yes, some Africans have ‘typically Caucasian’ hair, but they are very uncommon. Lets just say the last time I was in Kenya it was Afro all the way, and the large number of Somalis I saw there didn’t show much difference either. Caucasian hair is only seen occasionally in populations with Eurasian ancestry, like the Ethiopians, Somalis and other populations. This is also a quirk from that Keita paper you are all so busy quoting… the populations Keita gives as examples of ‘all African’ diversity have Eurasian ancestry ranging from 13% to 40%. Anyone wanting to prove otherwise, send me a link to a crowd scene of black Africans showing mostly caucasian hair.
The only African populations to display a majority of Caucasian hair are Caucasian populations. Get over it. Again, if you feel you can prove different send me a link to a crowd scene with multiple Caucasian haired Africans (it doesn’t have to be straight, most Caucasian hair is curly to wavy).
I would also like to comment that Negroid hair doesn’t magically transform into typically Caucasian hair as a result of the mummification process, as is often claimed. ALL the anthropologists that examined the hair have described the hair as Caucasian overall; you’ll just have to assume that a bunch of highly trained professionals might actually know what they are talking about.
And finally, the comments on this board have to be approved by me to be posted up. You can keep spamming me with the same brainlessly parroted/abusive crap, but it won’t get through so you may as well save yourself the effort. Intelligent comments and arguments do get through, so if you want to argue with me try to be original and polite.