Natalie McCreesh of the University of Manchester, UK and her colleagues examined hair samples from 15 mummies from the Kellis 1 cemetery in Dakhla oasis, Egypt, and a further three samples from mummies housed in museum collections in the US, the UK and Ireland.
The mummies were of both sexes, between 4 and 58 years old when they died, and dated from 3500 years to 2300 years ago.
When examined with light and electron microscopes, it became clear that the hairs of most mummies were coated with a fatty substance.
“Once we started looking [for these], we found interesting hairstyles. The hair was styled and perfectly curled,” New Scientist quoted McCreesh as saying.
McCreesh thinks that the fatty coating is a styling product that was used to set hair in place. It was found on both natural and artificial mummies, so she believes that it was also a key part of the mummification process.
“People presume the ancient Egyptians shaved their heads. The priests and priestesses did, but not everyone. They did take pride in their appearance,” says McCreesh.
“The whole point of mummification was to preserve the body as in life. I guess they wanted to look their best. You’d be dressed in your fancy party outfit. You’d want to look beautiful in preparation for the next life,” she added.
The research has now been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Rethymnon, 19 Nov.2011