Tag Archives: hair in Ancient Egypt

Pulling the front lock of hair in Ancient Egypt?


In Ancient Egypt groups of common mourners walked during funerary processions making many gestures of lament: raising arms, beating their arms…One of the most typical gestures of these mourners was to pull from their lock of hair.
We can watch this typical mourning movement in two dimensional depictions, as for instance the mastaba of Mereruka (Saqqara) or the tomb of Ramses IX (KV6).
The religious texts of Ancient Egypt mention the fact of pulling from the lock of hair with the locution nwn m.

Mourners in the tomb of Mereruka at Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

Mourners in the tomb of Mereruka at Saqqara. VI Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo Martín

We usually considered this gesture as “pulling the front lock of hair”, due to the act that the artists of Ancient Egypt depicted the mourners always pulling from a lock of hair that hanged from their front.
However, there is an exception. The wooden anthropoid coffin of Amenemipet, from the XXI Dynasty, presents in its outer decoration a group of common mourners crying, bending their bodies, raising their arms… It is interesting to notice how the artist of Ancient Egypt introduced here the frontal perspective for depicting one mourner in the center of the group, so she raises her two arms at each side.

Common mourners in the coffin of Amenemipet. XXI Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Common mourners in the coffin of Amenemipet. XXI Dynasty. British Museum.

At left of the image in a smaller scale a mourning woman pulls with both hands not from a front lock of hair, but from a lateral lock of hair.

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Lunar Rituals with Hair in the Ancient Egyptian City of Heliopolis.


It seems that in Ancient Egypt there were a relationship between the hair element and some rites of Heliopolis.

The funerary texts show that the hair, the lock of hair and the cut of this lock of hair were somehow connected with religious practices of this ancient Egyptian city.

In chapters 167 and 674 of the Coffin Texts the deceased receives the offers of bread for the snwt festivity and the bier for the dnit festivity in the moment when the two mourners prepare their hair for him. Both were important lunar celebrations in Heliopolis during the Old Kingdom.

Detail of the eye of Horus from the tomb of Roy. XIX Dynasty. Ancient Egypt. Photo Mª Rosa Valdesogo

Detail of the eye of Horus from the tomb of Roy. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Mª Rosa Valdesogo

The festivity of snwt was celebrated in Ancient Egypt the 6th day of the month (Wb IV, 153, 4) and dnit was the festivity of the first and third crescent (Wb V, 465, 6 and 7). During these days ancient Egyptians celebrated in Heliopolis the process of recovery of the lunar eye, and the following day was called “day of Horus’ festivity” (Derchain, 1962, p. 30). So in Heliopolis, the lunar cycle was celebrated with the hair element as a process of rebirth, as it was in the funerals of Ancient Egypt.

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The Beauty of Hair in Ancient Egypt.


Hair has been from ancient times an important element for preserving a good- looking. Recently in the blog Studia Humanitatis it was published a very interesting post about how the concept of a woman’s beauty is closely related to hair.

He mentioned a passage of The Metamorphoses of Lucius Apuleius, in which he falls in love of Fotis and concretly of her hair. The author notices then that hair is the main point of beauty of women for two reasons: 1)  because it is the first thing that men see and that it is shown to them;2) becasue, if the clothes embellish the body, the hair do the same thing with the head. In fact, Apuleius dedicates a big paragraph for exalting the sensuality of a long hair, the gesture of plaiting it, the hair loose… and he says that a bald women could never be attractive. (Lucius Apuleius, The Metamorphoses, II, 8-9).

Woman with mirror. Turin Papyrus. Ancient Egypt

Woman with mirror. Turin Papyrus. Photo: www.gettyimages.es

This thoutgh can also be applied to Ancient Egypt. For Egyptians the appearance was such a important thing, that cosmetic remedies were included in medical texts. For instance the Edwin Smith Papyrus includes prescriptions for renewing the skin and rejuvenating the face (Pap. Edwin Smith, V. 4, 3-8).

Hair was not an exception in Ancient Egypt among beauty cares. Egyptians were concerned, as nowadays, about grey hair and baldness. The Papyrus Ebers shows many remedies against these two problems, always using the natural components they had.

Man with sparse hair. Painting from the tomb of Horemheb. XVIII dynasty. Louvre Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Man with sparse hair. Painting from the tomb of Horemheb. XVIII dynasty. Louvre Museum. Photo: www.lessingimages.com

For growing hair Ancient Egyptians rubbed the scalp with a mixture of tooth of ass with honey, also they rubbed the bald area with a mixture of fat from different animals (lion, hippopotamus, crocodile, cat, snake and goat).

Ostraca from Louvre Museum with men with alopecia. Ancient Egypt

Ostraca from Louvre Museum with men with alopecia. Photo: www.wikipedia.org

Ancient Egyptians fought against accidental alopecia rubbing the affected area with quills of hedgehog warmed with oil or with a mixture of lead and froth of beer.

Finally, against grey hair men and women from Ancient Egypt applied blood of the gabgu bird (an unknown bird mentioned in the Coffin Texts as a dangerous bird) for dyeing the white hair, or horn of deer mixed with warm oil, or womb of cat mixed with egg of gabgu bird and oil. Grey eyebrows could be dissimulated with a mixture of liver of an ass, warm oil and opium.

Obviously we do not know the efficacy of these beauty remedies for the hair, but our question is: if they were important in Ancient Egypt for the livings, were they also for the dead? Did the Egyptians apply these prescriptions to their mummies? Had their mummies be as beautiful as possible for the Afterlife?

Mummy with wig of queen Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Ancient Egypt

Mummy with wig of queen Henuttawy. XXI Dynasty. Cairo Museum. Photo: www.commons-wikimedia.org

 

 

 

Hair in Egyptian Art for Expressing Respect.


Hair became in Ancient Egypt a resource for expressing things.

The bending hair was used in Ancient Egypt art for drawing body movements.

As some movements were related in ancient egyptian belief to some attitudes, hair was also used for expressing those attitudes. We are referring concretly to “respect”.

The gesture of bending the body forwards was utilised by artists of Ancient Egypt for expressing the respect in front of kings and deities. And the hair forwards became a resource of stressing this gesture of veneration.

Papyrus of Ani. The couple in front of the final judgment. XIX Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Papyrus of Ani. The couple in front of the final judgment. XIX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

One good example is the Papyrus of Ani (XIX Dynasty) in the Brisith Museum. In it  we can see the couple bended when coming in front of the final judgment. Ani’s wife appears with her hair slightly forwards, this way the Egyptyian artists emphasized her body movement.

Papyrus of Ani. Ani greeting the Ennead. XIX Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt

Papyrus of Ani. Ani greeting the Ennead. XIX Dynasty. Photo: British Museum.

This was exagerated in the same papyrus when, after passing the judgment, Ani gets into paradise and greets the gods. In this case Ani is represented with a front lock of hair forwards; the artist stressed the meaning of bending the body as a signof respect.

The papyrus of Ramose (XIX Dynasty) in the Fitzwilliam Museum of Cambridge is too damage, but we can guess the same scene as in the former one. Ramose’s body is greeting the gods, while his body is bended and a front black lock of hair can be discerned.

Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ramose). Ramose seems to show his front lock of hair. Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge. Ancient Egypt.

Book of the Dead (Papyrus of Ramose). Ramose seems to show his front lock of hair. XIX Dynasty. Photo: Fitzwilliam Museum. Cambridge.

Although these examples all date from XIX Dyansty, next week we will see that it was not trendy just at that time,

Hair in Egyptian Art for Expressing Dance.


Due to the estrict rules of the Egyptian art, artists in Ancient Egypt needed to find unnatural ways of expressing some movements, especially during the Old and Middle Kingdom. Distorsion and sprain characterises dynamic scenes (dancing, acrobaces, games…) in those periods of Egyptian history.

Dancing scene from mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Saqqara. Ancient Egypt

Dancing scene from mastaba of Mereruka. VI Dynasty. Saqqara. Image: http://www.osirisnet.net

musician girls in Rekhmire's tomb. Ancient Egypt

Musician girl playing the long neck lute. Tomb of Rekhmire in Gourna. XVIII Dynasty. Photo courtesy: Dagmar Krejci.

However, from the New Kingdom dynamism appears in Ancient Egypt decoration in a more natural way. The Egyptian artist gradually tretaed the bodies in movement in a less rigid way. And one of the elements which helped them was the hair. We have already seen, for instance, that hair was a resource for expressing the movement while playing an instrument. However, hair as an artistic resource of Egyptian artist applied to the body language dates not from the New Kingdom, but before. According to the iconography, the mourning gesture of shaking hair forwards was expressed in Ancient Egypt by drawing the mane of hair over the woman’s face. That way, the Egyptian artist represented this body movement. We can imagine that the mourner was not permanent bended, but moving her body and head forwards and backwards.

Detail of the stele of Abkaou in the Louvre Museum. XI Dynasty. Ancient Egypt

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

As long as we know, the first example of this artistic resource comes from Middle Kingdom; in the stele of Abkaou (XI Dynasty) and in a fragment of a coffin (XII Dynasty) mourners bend their body and their hair is forward.

Later on, in a rishi coffin from XVII Dynasty, there is a scene of the funerary procession, in which one mourner bends her body and shakes the hair forwards. That way of expressing this mourning gesture will go on in the Ancient Egypt iconography.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Funerary ceremony in Ancient Egypt.

Rishi coffin. Right side with the funerary procession. On the left a common mourner shaking hair forwards. XVII-XVIII Dynasty. Thebes. Photo: http://www.metmuseum.org

Tomb of the Dancers from Thebes. XVII Dynasty. Ashmolean Museum of Oxford. Ancient Egypt.

Tomb of the Dancers from Thebes. XVII Dynasty. Ashmolean Museum of Art and Achaeology in Oxford. Photo: www.ashmoleanprints.com

The paintings from the “Tomb of the Dancers” date from the XVII Dynasty and we can see in them how in that period of the Egyptian history  artists started to treat the body in movement in a more realistic way, traying to express what that women were doing: jumps, gestures with the shoulders, arms raised…, although their hair are motionless.

In the New Kingdom, Egyptian art takes the technique from the sacred funerary decoration and the hair forwards and/or backwards became a way of drawing more daily gestures. Artist will learn to manipulate hair in a realistic way for expressing the movement of dancing.

Music scene from the tomb of Djeserkaraseneb. XVIII Dynasty. Tempera of Charles. K. Wilkinson. Ancient Egypt.

Music scene from the tomb of Djeserkaraseneb. XVIII Dynasty. Tempera of Charles. K. Wilkinson. Photo: www.metmuseum.org

In the tomb of Dyeserkaraseneb (TT 38), dating from the reign of Tuthmosis IV there is a music scene in which one of the musicians appears with her plaits moving for expressing how she turns he head back. Next to her a dancing girl is slightly bended backwards, whose lateral plaits of hair were drawn following her movement.

Dancing girl. Tomb of Dyeserkaraseneb (TT 38). XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Dancing girl. Tomb of Dyeserkaraseneb (TT 38). XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.osirisnet.net

 

Dancers and musicians from the tomb of Nebamon (TT 90). XVIII Dynasty. Ancient Egypt.

Dancers and musicians from the tomb of Nebamon (TT 90). XVIII Dynasty. Photo: www.commons.wikimedia.org

The famous scene of the dancers from the tomb of Nebamon (TT 90) shows one of the dacing girls with both laterals plaits of hair shaing forwards with her head. In fact, the whole body was treated in such a realistic way that we can imagine her moving herself to the rhythm of the music her fellows are playing.

In that period of Egyptian history the artists learnt how to draw the body movement in a more realistic way manipulating many parts of the human body, included the hair. This last one was a technique taken from the sacred funerary art of Ancient Egypt.

 

Egyptian Words for “Lock of Hair” related to the Mourning Rite.


Detail of Papyrus of Ani. The lock of hair of Ani. XVIII Dynasty. British Museum. Ancient Egypt.

Detail of Papyrus of Ani. The lock of hair of Ani. XVIII Dynasty. British Museum. Photo: www.britishmuseum.org

Ancient Egyptians had different ways to refer to the action of disheveling hair. That happens because the Egyptian was a very rich language and had many centuries of history.

In this same line, we find that Egyptians also had various terms for designating “lock of hair“.

Egyptian word for "lock of hair".

Egyptian word for “lock of hair”.

The most common, that we have been reading and watching all over this blog is the word “swt” or “syt”.It was a very generic word for referring to a portion of head hair. This term seems to appear in the New Kingdom and according to the iconography it was chosen by scribes mainly for naming the pulled lock of hair related to the mourning practices.

Detail of the sarcophagus of Djedhor with Isis pulling her front lock of hair. Ptolemaic Period. Louvre Museum. Ancient Egypt

Detail of the sarcophagus of Djedhor with Isis pulling her front lock of hair. Ptolemaic Period. Louvre Museum. Photo: www.cartelfr.louvre.fr

Egyptian word for "lock of hair"

Egyptian word for “lock of hair”

The word “samt” has in Egytian a double value. In fact it is a controversial term. For some scholars it should be translated just as “sadness” or “lament“, but somne other scholar, due to the hair determinative and taking into consideration the context this word appears in, consider that it could be translated as “lock of hair“.

All along this blog we have seen how the word “samt” is closely related to the mourning rite and concretely to the mourning practice of cutting a piece-lock of hair of the professional mourners at the end of the funerary ceremony. So, one of the translations of  “s3mt” could be exactly this one: “lock of hair of a profesional mourner”.

Another very interesting Egyptian word for “lock of hair” is “nebed“.Lock of Hair nbd. Ancient Egypt It also appears in the New Kingdom and it seems to refer concretly to “plaited lock of hair“. It is very interesting to  notice the  between “nebed” and “nebedj”. Lock of Hair nbD. The bad. Ancient EgyptThis last word exists in Ancient Egypt from the Old Kingdom and its translation was “the bad“, in fact with the hair determinative it could also have the enemy determinative. There also was the proper noun of “Nebedj“, which was a way of naming Seth, the enemy of Osiris (and also Apophis,the enemy of Re).Lock of Hair nbD. Seth and Apophis. Ancient Egypt

We wonder if the word nebed for “lock or plait of hair” could come from the former Egyptian term nebedj, which was related to Seth, to he bad, to the enemy of Osiris. This is a dimension which links pefectly with the mourning practices with the hair of the professional mourners destinated to the resurrection of the dead. So, maybe nebedj was another Egyptian word for “lock of hair” again related to the mourning rite.