Tag Archives: ancient egypt

Book: “Hair and Death in Ancient Egypt”.


Dear followers,

We have already posted the core content of the research about hair and death in Ancient Egypt. But, we do not stop!

Scribes from the mastaba of Ty in Saqqara. VI Dynasty.

Scribe from the mastaba of Ty in Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Following the request from some of you, the next step will be to publish the book about it. Obviously it will not have the same strucure as it has had in the blog, and we are still considering if making just a digital version or borth (digital and paper). Your opinion in that point is crucial. Anyway, we hope that it will be ready for next 2014.

The blog still goes on. There are too many aspects of the hair into the funerary belief of Ancient Egyptthat worth it.

We will keep on posting about it, although with less frequency.

We hope you will stay with us.

Thank you for being there!!!!

Open Reflections on Mourning Ritual in Egyptian Geography.


What about considering the iconography from the geographical point of view?  If we order in a map of Ancient Egypt the scenes we have found of mourning women that is what we have:Hair in Geography

The resulting map is the following:

Map hair

It seems that the nwn m gesture of pulling the front lock of hair belonged more to the Lower Egypt, while the nwn gesture of shaking hair was more habitual in the Upper Egypt. The exception was the royal tombs of New Kingdom, where the artist included also scenes of mourners (Isis and Nephtys or mourners of the Hereafter) pulling hair. So many questions come now to mind:

  • Did the nwn m gesture come from the north?
  • Did the nwn gesture have its origin in Upper Egypt?
  • Had the nwn gesture its origin in the Myth of Osiris? And was it typical from Abydos?
  • Were both gestures from Abydos and nwn m was extended to the north, while the nwn was extended to the south?
  • Did the election of one or another gesture depend on the place the burial took place?
  • Was the nwn m gesture introduced from the north in the royal funerary habits of New Kingdom?
  • While mourners pulled and/or shook their hair in Egyptian funerals, what happened in Nubia?

As we can notice, the matter is still full of questions with no answer. Many doubts come to our mind and we need to study deeper, slowly and with more documents.

Shaking, Pulling, Cutting and Offering the Hair in Ancient Egypt Funerals.


If we take a look at all documents compiled by category the results are these ones:shaking, pulling, cutting and offering

There are more examples of these women shaking their hair forwards than pulling their front lock of hair and it seems quite safe to affirm that in Ancient Egypt there was the habit of cutting and offering hair to the deceased. destacada 24de junio

We could conclude that Egyptian mourners shook more their hair than pulled it before cutting it, but it would not be precise, because archaeology and ancient history are not exact sciences and we just count on the documents the chance has preserved.

From the chronological point of view it seems that the New Kingdom has more activity, although it is obvious that it comes from the amount of examples of decoration it remains.shaking, pulling, cutting and offering together

But anyway, still some questions come to our mind related to shaking or pulling hair:

  • Was really the nwn m gesture the main one during the Old Kingdom?
  • Was the nwn gesture more in vogue from the Middle Kingdom on?

If both gestures coexisted, was still shaking hair the preferred one?

Open Reflections on Cutting and Offering Hair in Ancient Egypt.


About the proof of a practice of cutting and then offering the hair, archaeology appears as the most numerous and increasing as history advances. gráfico Cutting&Offering Hair

Anyway, the remains from the Late Period come from a unique necropolis with ten tombs having hair offerings. But, again the New Kingdom has more indices of it, with many scenes where mourning women appear with short hair.

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Does it mean that this practice becomes popular as time goes by? Or again does it come about by chance? If the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom give us indices of cutting the mourning women’s hair we have to suppose that this was not a new practice included suddenly in the sacred texts.

Open Reflections on Pulling Hair in Ancient Egypt .


The nwn m gesture of pulling the front lock of hair.

As we can see in the graphic here below the nwn m gesture of pulling hair is very present in the Old Kingdom, while we have no documents of it from the Middle Kingdom. It appears again later and especially strong in iconography. Documents from the Late Period on are less.

gráfico nwn m

Which ideas can we take from?

Nephtys pulling her front lock of hair. Detail from the sarcophagus of Nesshutefnut from the Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien.  www.khm.at

Nephtys pulling her front lock of hair. Detail from the sarcophagus of Nesshutefnut from the Ptolemaic Period. Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. http://www.khm.at

  • If we have to take notice just of the data, we could understand that the nwn m gesture disappears during the Middle Kingdom for appearing again in the New Kingdom, but does it make sense? We think the answer is no. In this case we guess we have to hold chance responsible again for it.
  • Maybe the point is that such a sacred practice had not an orthodox way of being expressed, or in religious texts, or in iconography. Once in the New Kingdom the decorative activity gets so intense and sacred texts increase little by little religious and artistic collectives establish some rules or some principles. From that moment on we can distinguish between the common mourners and the professional ones, both making similar gestures, but with different meanings and in different moments of the funerary ceremony.

Open Reflections on Shaking Hair in Ancient Egypt.


If we organise all the data in a graphic, we can more easily make some reflections for proving that the matter is still too far of being closed. Let’s see what we have about the nwn gesture of shaking hair forwards.

grafico nwn

    If we just look at the evolution we see that there is no trace of an explicit nwn gesture in the Old Kingdom. It seems that during the Old Kingdom the normal practice for mourners (the common ones and the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys) was to pull the hair (nwn m), not to shake it (nwn). This last one appears in documents from the Middle Kingdom, and the New Kingdom is the most prolific period, mainly in iconography. Does it mean something?

  • Was the nwn gesture of shaking hair sm3 forwards developed sometime before the Middle Kingdom; let’s remember that in XI Dynasty it is already entirely developed, as the stele of Abkaou proofs in the Festivity of Osiris.

    Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

    Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

  • Could we think that the nwn gesture was something that belonged just to the Festivity of Osiris? And later on it was included in the funerals of common people?
  • Maybe it has been a matter of pure luck and documents have not preserved (or have not been yet discovered) for knowing that the nwn gesture was also made by the two professional mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys during the Old Kingdom. In fact the Pyramid Texts say they pull their hair sm3, not their frontal lock of hair swt. Could it be a trace of the nwn gesture in the professional mourning ritual at that time?
  • On the other hand, the corpus of scenes the artists had for the private tombs of the Old Kingdom did not include images of the funerary ceremony nor of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. So, the nwn gesture could be made in the mourning ritual of the Old Kingdom, but we cannot see it because it was not represented.

Data Collection on Mourning Hair in Ancient Egypt.


We have seen all along this work many documents showing an Egyptian mourning ritual during funerals. Mourning women shook and/or pulled their hair, the common mourners during the cortège and the two mourners in the role of Isis and Nephtys in a precise moment of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. But, was the reconstruction we have made of the funerary ceremony the same in every period of the history of Ancient Egypt and in every Egyptian city? Did the Egyptian mourners all over the country the same gesture with their hair?

DATA COLLECTION

Let’s compare chronologically the documents related to mourning women and the hair we have worked with. First we will compile in figures all the data about the nwn and nwn m gestures and about the haircut and offering and we will order them:nwn (2)

If finally we collect chronologically all the information, this is the result:

hair

According to that, the New Kingdom is the period of Egyptian history with a bigger legacy about mourning rites, especially in iconography, does it mean that in that moment the mourning ritual was more consolidated than before? If so, the latest period’s archaeological remains could make us think that the hair offering was a commoner practice in Greco-Roman times. No, things are not so easy.

Secular Mourning vs. Ritual Mourning. An Egyptian Custom.


We have seen Egyptian mourners, with Egyptian tears, shaking and pulling Egyptian hair and crying for an Egyptian corpse. But crying is spontaneous human expression, so mourning is not an isolated Egyptian practise; it is also a common behaviour in many other cultures, even nowadays it is still an important way of expressing desperation and sadness in case of death or any kind of disaster.

We have tried to look for similar examples of mourning in some other cultures near Egypt and more or less contemporary. We have found in some cases some coincidences, but also big differences.

In many African areas, women mourn in the same way Egyptian women did. They scream, lie down on the ground, and tear their clothes. But, apparently nothing is done with the hair.

Mourning woman when te city is being besieged. Relief from the tempel of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. IX BC. Photo: www.lectio.unibe.ch

Mourning woman when te city is being besieged. Relief from the tempel of Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud. IX BC. Photo: http://www.lectio.unibe.ch

From the reign of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) in Assyria come some examples of women mourning and making gestures similar to those one we found in Egyptian funerals. His son Salmanasar III also left similar iconography. They are women crying desperate because their city is being attacked and their men killed. The document remembers the scene coming from the tomb of Inti in Dishasha (near Bahr el-Yusuf) from the IV Dynasty, where a woman is pulling her front lock of hair desperate because the city is being besieged.

Drawing of the relief in the tomb of Inti. Inside the fortress we can see the major and a woman, both pulling their lock of hair. Dishasha. VI Dynasty.

Drawing of the relief in the tomb of Inti. Inside the fortress we can see the major and a woman, both pulling their lock of hair. Dishasha. VI Dynasty.

But although they are examples of desperation as those Egyptian ones, the Assyrian women do not pull their hair nor shake it forwards. When Assyria was ruled by Ashurnasipal II and Salmansar III Egypt was in its Third intermediate Period.

There are several documents from the Archaic Greece showing women mourning in funerals. Many funerary plaques from that period show these women moaning and pulling locks of hair from their heads. Loutrophoros were vessels of pottery for water used in funerals, they were decorated with funerary images, and many of them show female during the mourning pulling locks of hair.

Eos mourning the death of  Memnon. Amphora in Etruscan museum in Vatican. VI BC. photo: www.facukty.gvsu.edu

Eos mourning the death of Memnon. Amphora in Etruscan museum in Vatican. VI BC. photo: http://faculty.gvsu.edu/websterm/Read_Iliad.htm

In an amphora in the Etruscan Museum in Vatican the goddess Eos is depicted mourning the death of her son Memnon at the hands of Achilles, she is bended over her son’s corpse pulling a front lock of hair. Another good example for us is a hydria from the VI century b. C. containing the mythological scene of the mourning of Achilles killed by Paris; some of the Nereids appear pulling locks of hair. While that was happening in Greece, Egypt was ruled by the XXVI Dynasty.

Thetis and the Nereids mourning the death of Achilles. Musée du Louvre. VI BC. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

Thetis and the Nereids mourning the death of Achilles. Musée du Louvre. VI BC. Photo: http://www.commons.wikimedia.org

Greek Illiad describes how in Patroklos’ burial his fellows cut themselves locks of hair and covered his body with them and how Achilles cut a yellow lock of his hair and put it in the hands of Patroklos.  These two gestures were made in honour of Patroklos, but not for helping him in a final resurrection. Anyway, did this practice belong to Homer’s times (VIII century BC) or to the Trojan War’s times (usually dated in XII century BC)? If we consider the first date Egypt is in the Third Intermediate Period, while the second one coincides with the end of the XX Dynasty.

As we can see all the Egyptian proves are much more ancient, some of them more than 2.000 years. On the other hand, in Ancient Egypt there were two types of mourning, the secular one and the ritual one. The first one is closer to the foreign examples we have seen: a human behaviour for sadness or in honour of the death. In the second case the gestures belong to a rite, which comes from a myth. Egyptian mourners during the Opening of the Mouth ceremony made the mourning ritual with their hair for reviving the mummy. Does anybody know something similar in other cultures?

Mourning Women and Mourning Hair in Ancient Egypt Funeral.


All along this work we have found three different mourners involved in Egyptian funerals.

Mourning men pulling hair. Relief from the matasba of Idu in Gizah. VI Dynasty. Photo: www.antiguoegipto.org

Mourning men pulling hair. Relief from the mastaba of Idu in Gizah. VI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.antiguoegipto.org

On one hand there were groups of common mourners (mainly women, but sometimes also men) among the rest of the members of the cortège. They were walking together weeping and making the typical gestures of mourning:  beating themselves, raising arms, ripping their clothes…those gesture included also to shake the hair and cover the face with it (nwn) or to pull a front lock of hair (nwn m). Egyptian documents (texts and iconography) do not give evidence that both gestures were made together; common mourners made one or another nor did the whole group do the same gesture all together. It seems that there was no coordination and that the women could make different mourning movements during the procession. The question is if that depended on something.

  • Was it something spontaneous and did it not depend on any order?
  • Was it an election of priests?
  • Did it depend on a local custom?
  • Was it an election made by the deceased’s family?
  • Was it an election made by the deceased? Taking into account that the tomb and its decoration was made while he was alive, it makes sense to think about a tomb’s owner election.

On the other hand, Egyptian iconography, specially tombs and papyrus from New Kingdom, show us the deceased’s widow next to the coffin also weeping and making mourning gestures, but apparently never shaking or pulling her hair. She is a mourning wife, but different from the group of common mourners and from the two representatives of Isis and Nephtys.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy's wife mourns her husband's death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Isis and Nephtys are at both extremes of the mummy. Behind Roy’s wife mourns her husband’s death. Painting from the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Finally, the funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt counted on the participation of two mourning women playing the roles of Isis and Nepthys. The New Kingdom is the most prolific period of Egyptian history in scenes of them. They usually appear at both extremes of the coffin with a passive attitude, although funerary texts refer to them as active members in the corpse’s regeneration.

If we construct the puzzle with all the pieces from the different documents the scene we have is the following: during the cortège these two professional mourners stood static next to the mummy and with their hair covered by a piece of clothing, meanwhile the rest of mourners regretted the death of a person crying, screaming and shaking and/or pulling hair. Once the procession arrived to the necropolis things changed.

Cortège with the common mourners, the deceased's wife and the two Drty in the role of Isis and Nephtys. Papyrus of Nebqed. Musée du Louvre. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.eu.art.com

Cortège with the common mourners, the deceased’s wife and the two Drty in the role of Isis and Nephtys. Papyrus of Nebqed. Musée du Louvre. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.eu.art.com

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. XI Dynasty. Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

Mourners over the corpse. Detail of the stele of Akbaou. Musée du Louvre. XI Dynasty. Photo: http://www.commons-wikimedia.org

The Opening of the Mouth ceremony for reviving the mummy took part somewhere in an enclosed area (most probably the tomb) and not in view of anyone. It was when the priestly team entered into the mythical dimension; the myth became rite in a group of practices for getting the deceased’s resurrection. The two women (Drty) turned into Isis and Nephtys and the mummy into Osiris. Outside the common mourners (included the deceased’s wife) kept moaning, but inside the two “kites” carried out a mourning ritual in which they made the nwn and the nwn m gestures. This way they reproduced that part of the Osiris myth in which Isis conceived Horus and he could revenge his father’s death.

During the Opening of the Mouth ceremony the sem priest played the role of the tekenu, helping in the transmission of life force to the corpse, but he also was the representative of Horus for facing Seth. This part of the myth is materialised in the rite by means of the sacrifice of an ox.

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Sacrifice of the ox with the presence of the mourner. Painting from the tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

The animal’s slaughter meant the victory of Horus over Seth, the good over the evil, so the mourning’s end. At that moment we consider the s3mt was cut, cutting this mourner’s hair symbolized the enemies’ annihilation, the end of the mourning and the Udjat eye’s recovery.

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools, both with short hair. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

At the end of the Opening of the Mouth ceremony there were, among others, a hair offering. It was the mourner’s hair that had been shook and pulled and that served for symbolizing the revitalization process of the mummy (recovery of vital faculties, return to the Nun and to the womb…) and the removal of the evil which could drag out that process (lunar eye suffering, enemies, chaos…). This hair was offered as an image of the Udjat eye and materialised the deceased’s resurrection.

S3mt: Hair and Mourning, Evil and Udjat Eye.


The word s3mt appears repeatedly in the Egyptian funerary texts. It can be translated as lock of hair or mourning and it is closely linked to the idea of destruction of evil, the healing of the lunar eye and finally recovering the Udjat eye.

S3mt seems to refer to something related to the  mourning ritual and focused on the mourner’s hair. It could probably be considered as the hair that during the mourning rite women manipulated with a symbolic meaning, shaking it forwards (nwn sm3) or pulling it (nwn m swt).

Group of mourners, one of them making nwn m gesture of pulling her frontal lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Mourner making nwn m gesture of pulling her front lock of hair. Relief from the mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Two women shaking their hairs. Relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Two women shaking their hair. Relief from the Red Chapel of Hatshepsut in Karnak. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

The funerary texts communicate that this s3mt was cut, using the Egyptian word Hsq, which meant “cut”, but also “behead”. And also we find evidence that the mourners were shaved at the end of the mourning rite.

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

The two Drty (two kites), offering nw vases with short hair to the four pools. Relief from the tomb of Pahery in el-Kab. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

Many documents assimilate the hair s3mt with the s3bwt snakes. These were malign animals that in Egyptian mythology beheaded the gods, so they were an image of the enemy and responsible of the death.

Beheading the snake as an image of the evil. The cat of Heliopolis killing the snake Apohis, enemy of Re. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Beheading the snake as an image of the evil. The cat of Heliopolis killing the snake Apohis, enemy of Re. Painting from the tomb of Inerkha in Deir el-Medina. XIX Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

In Egyptian funerary belief, it is necessary to restore the head for living again and annihilate those s3bwt. Making that the adversary is wiped out; the gods recover their heads and also their faculties for seeing, breathing and knowing.  In the funerary ambit, this will benefit the deceased, since cutting the s3mt will have the same effects on him: to recover the faculties that give him access to the new life.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Tekenu wrapped in a shroud and in foetal position over a sledge. Painting from the tomb of Ramose in Gourna.XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Cutting the s3mt is also closely related to the sacrifice and the figure of tekenu. This human victim, who goes back to ancient times in Egyptian history, has a double value, expiatory and propitiatory. In the first documents, one of the remarkable elements of the human victim is a front lock of hair. Once the human victim is replaced by an ox in the Opening of the Mouth ceremony again the lock of hair is one of the most important elements. So, this last one seems to be related with the evil elimination.

Sacrifice of an ox in the funerary ceremony. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

Sacrifice of an ox in the funerary ceremony. Painting from the tomb of Menna in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: http://www.osirisnet.net

As cutting the s3mt is a way of removing the bad, it is also a way of recovering the Udjat eye as symbol of the final resurrection. Firstly Thoth spits on the damaged eye of Horus and this action is narrated in sacred texts as Thoth spitting on the hair sm3, afterwards the mourners are shaved or the s3mt is cut and the Udjat eye is offered to the deceased.

Eye of Horus, the falcon god. Detail from an image of Horus in the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Eye of Horus, the falcon god. Detail from an image of Horus in the tomb of Roy in Dra Abu el-Naga. XVIII Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín.

Summing up, to cut the s3mt supposes annihilate the enemy, the evil but also recover the Udjat eye and allow the final resurrection.