Ancient Hairstyles

Hairstyles can be traced from the time of the pharaohs in different ways, in depictions from paintings or reliefs and from actual archaeological finds of hairstyles. In my work, I have been focusing mainly on the latter, on the archaeological finds from ancient graves or tombs. On the left you can see two blocks depicting the hairstyles of two ladies from the court of the Pharaoh, now in the Metropolitan Musem of Art (New York). Most hairstyle depictions in Egyptian art show elite women and men and not the hairstyles worn by commoners. This is exactly why studying human remains from simple graves is so important. This will give us a much more diverse picture of ancient Egyptian hairdressing.  

Most of the human remains with preserved hairstyles that I have been studying, come from simple graves from the Egyptian New Kingdom (second half of the second millennium BCE). The individuals are often found wrapped in textile, but without any obvious other signs of mummification. This often looks like the head shown here on the left, where part of the textile is preserved. Because of the dry Egyptian climate and their wrapped bodies, their hair of these individuals is often well preserved. For men, most hairstyles are simple and their hair is often worn short. However, I have also found beards and moustaches. And since beards are very rarely preserved in the archaeological record, that is pretty amazing. Not only beards and head hair is found though, the dry sand of tell el-Amarna has also preserved eyebrows, eyelashes and even nose hair! It show us the big picture of how in ancient times, men and women took care of their body hair and how much attention was given to their appearance.

On this page I have included some images of hairstyles from the graves of tell el-Amarna. The right image shows an adult woman wearing her hair loose, augmented with numerous extensions. The extensions are dark brown, while her original hair is much lighter and almost orange-red as if she had dyed her gray hair with henna. In the lower regions of her hairstyle even more, and much smaller dark extensions were knotted into her own hair. The fact that it is not strange to have a combination of differently coloured hair in ancient Egypt is shown by the depiction in the painting. Here, a woman with light brown hair is wearing what seems to be a wig of darker, shorter hair on top of her own hair, much like the extensions of the woman on the right. 

The other three images here, show girls and the hairstyles they were buried with. Young women and girls in tell el-Amarna were often interred with thin braids in their hair that were braided in several layers along a part, down the centre of their heads. The braids were set in about 10 cm lower than the crown of the head. In most of these hairstyles, the thin braids were worn at shoulder length and no extensions were used to augment their hair.

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