I started this research when Dr. Nadine Guilhou from the university of Montpellier told me about some images in Egyptian iconography where hair in funerary rites was treated in a very special way.
The first important document was a vignette in the chapter 168 of the Book of the Dead. Here mourning women in the funeral cortege of Re were shaking their hair and covering their faces with it.
Chapter 168 B of the Book of the Dead.
I needed to be sure that it was not an isolated case, so I had to find out more similar examples. I found many similar scenes in Theban tombs from the New Kingdom where mourning women gesticulated in the same way: Amenemhat (TT82), Minakht (TT87), Rekhmire (TT100) and Ineni (TT81), in the tomb of Renni at el-Kab (see the front of the blog). Out of the burials, but always in the funerary context, there is a scene from the funerary temple of Seti I in Dra Abu el-Naga.
Relief from the tomb of Amenemhat (TT 82)
Such a common attitude could not be just a coincidence, or a theatrical exposure of pain, but it had to arise from a deeper reason related to the funeral rite.
I still needed to look for more. Together with the iconography in Egyptology is necessary to have a look to the vocabulary. Among the words used by the Egyptian for “mourner” there was iakhbyt or hayt; I noticed that in many cases the writing did not include the determinative of a woman or a dishevelled woman, but the hieroglyph of the hair.
Determinatives of a woman and a dishevelled woman. Below the words in egyptian for “mourner“.
This showed that the mourner’s hair was such an important part of them, that even it could identify them.
As we were in the funeral field, I had to consider all funerary texts and I found many allusions to the capillary element. Those ones were more frequent in the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom and all of them with a « common denominator »: in all speeches mentioning the hair, mourner women were the main personages (and of course the mourning rite) and the Osiris myth was the backdrop.
For supporting the written document of the Middle Kingdom I found two images from the same period. One of them was a representation of a mourner beside the coffin leaning onwards and with her hair over her face; the other one was the Louvre stela C15, where the two mourners who assist the dead are doing this same gesture.
Mourning woman beside the coffin. Image in a coffin of the Middle Kingdom from Abydos.
Given that the Coffin Texts is where more allusions to hair can be found, I decided to initiate the research with reading of this corpus, so the other texts I mention are just support documents.