HOME

Egypt
Origins

Ginger - A Predynastic Egyptian

The naturally preserved body of an adult man was found in a cemetery at Gebelein, Egypt, and dated to the Late Predynastic period, around 3400 BC, or earlier.

Ginger died more than five thousand years ago, yet his golden hair, which gave him his nick-name, and even his toe- and finger-nails were perfectly preserved. Before mummification was developed to preserve human remains bodies were placed in shallow graves, in direct contact with the sand. The bodies from these early burials frequently did not decay, because the hot dry sand absorbed the water that constitutes 75% of the human weight. Without moisture bacteria cannot breed and cause decay, and the body is preserved. There are many of these burials from the early Egyptian periods where the body is still in excellent condition.

The picture below is from the British Museum, where Ginger was brought more than a hundred years ago. He is one of the favorites for Museum visitors.

Although his body is heavily stained from more than 5,000 years lying in the sand we can see he had a yellowish-white skin. He now lies in an artificial sand grave, with pottery and artifacts placed there by the Museum curators to simulate his surroundings when he was found. They are typical of familiar household items placed with the dead of that era, similar to the way we would place tokens of memory with our dead. "Ginger" represents an Egyptian of early Badarian or Naqada times.

He lies in the tightly curled, infantile position common to the burials of those days. This may have been an attempt to imitate the grave as the womb and he as a new born about to enter heaven.

Although this photograph does not serve well to illustrate the reason for naming this man "Ginger" he received that nickname when he was first put on display in the British Museum because of his golden curly locks. They are somewhat visible. As we can see, similar curly locks were often sculpted on Greek and Roman statues. (The above photograph on the right is that of a statue of the Roman Emperor, Augustus.)

Quite clearly, the technology to produce the life-like eyes illustrated by Rahotep and Nofret in 4th Dynasty Egypt was long lost by the time the Romans produced their sculptures.

Subject to the high humidity environment of London Ginger's skin began to peel from his skull. This can be seen in the golden color blank area over his left eye. Curators have attempted to replace the peeling skin by gluing it back onto the skull, but with mixed success.

Joann Fletcher has become a leading expert on Egyptian mummy remains, and the evidence they can reveal about life in those ancient times through the study of hair. She has a bachelor's degree in ancient history and Egyptology from University College London and an Egyptology Ph.D. from Manchester University. She has studied human remains in museum collections around the world and on site in Egypt, including the Valley of the Kings, Yemen, and South America. She is Egyptologist at Harrogate Museum, in North Yorkshire, and field director of York University's Mummy Research Project and has published extensively in the field of Egyptology.

In an interview for the Discovery Channel,

she had this to say:

"As the ancient nits on their tiny-toothed combs will attest, real Egyptians were plagued by infestations of scalp-biting bugs. Real Egyptians cropped their curls and even shaved their heads for the sake of hygiene: specifically, to remove the habitat of lice. And quite clearly, they also loved elaborate hairstyles, and went to great lengths to adorn themselves with wigs, false braids and hair extensions."

"Quite often, the more elaborate and ornate styles were worn by men." The shaven-headed bodies are not always men, as some would suspect. Ancient Egyptians didn't use hair length to distinguish gender."

"Nor was the practice of creating fancy 'dos restricted to elites. In excavations of manual laborers, we found elaborate styles that couldn't be created by the wearer alone; amazingly elaborate hairstyles."

Joann has published widely about her hair research. Nekhen News, published by the Milwaukee Public Museum, presented two short papers by her. The first was the News, Vol 9, 1997, Hair, Unraveling the Secrets of the Locks. The second was the News, Vol 10, 1998, The Secrets of the Locks Unraveled. In those papers she gave the following:

Hair is invaluable in the study of general day-to-day living conditions, as well as supplying information on diet and disease. A cursory examination of its surface structure can provide a certain amount of information on general health, while more detailed analysis of the elemental hair concentrations can help to establish dietary intake, revealing traces of any nutritional deficiencies and/or diseases.

To begin with the most obvious factor, hair can be looked at simply in terms of its style, which may indicate the way it had been dressed during the funerary process, or, alternatively, how an individual had chosen to wear it in life. However, it is most important to bear in mind that both men and women (in ancient Egypt) adopted a wide range of hair styles, ranging from a shaven head to long flowing locks. Many an archaeologist has failed to realize that gender cannot be determined on hair length alone. This failure has resulted in some rather curious conclusions, comparable to the way in which an individual is automatically assumed to have held religious office simply on the grounds of having a shaven head!

In addition to its style, the color, texture, type, and general condition of the hair can also be examined. Hair color is a fascinating study in itself, and the wide range of shades portrayed in Egyptian art does, to a large extent, reflect the diverse range found in reality. The most common hair color then, as now, was a very dark brown, almost black color, although natural auburn and even (rather surprisingly) blonde hair are also to be found. With their great fondness for elaboration, the Egyptians' skillful use of dyes has produced yet further shades for us to study, analysis showing many to be various forms of henna, which even an aged Rameses II had used regularly to rejuvenate his white hair.

In excavations at Hierakonpolis during the 1998 season many samples of hair was retrieved for laboratory study. Joann continues:

The vast majority of hair samples discovered at the site were cynotrichous (Caucasian) in type as opposed to heliotrichous (Negroid), a feature which is standard through dynastic times . . .

Close inspection revealed that the natural hair (from the grave of a woman), of slightly more than shoulder-length, had been augmented with a considerable number of artificial lengths of false hair, very reminiscent of modern dreadlocks, meticulously worked into the natural hair to create an imposing high coiffure. The complex styling techniques made it clear that her particular hairstyle was the result of many hours of careful work carried out by someone other than herself. This particular discovery is therefore extremely significant as it is the earliest evidence for the use of false hair in Egypt (if not the whole of the ancient world), predating previous examples by at least 500 years.

And, if this wasn't sufficient, the same lady also provided us with the earliest evidence for the use of hair dye. Indepth examination showed a contrast between the auburn cast of her dark brown hair and a smaller number of unpigmented white strands of hair associated with the aging process. The unpigmented hair had been turned the bright orange color typical of henna, a vegetable dye made from the powdered leaves of the shrub Lawsonia inermis. This shrub grows yet in the area and is still used for the same purpose by the local population, who kindly showed us where the best henna bushes were to be found

Although most of the hair found is the natural dark brown color, natural red hair was also discovered in association with male Burial No. 79, his hair originally falling in a wavy style ending in small ringlet-type open-center curls. Together with other burials, this reveals the great attention paid to appearance, the hair obviously of great importance to both men and women alike. There were clearly a great range of styles by this early date, from extremely short crops little more than I cm long as noted in Burial No. 76 (a female of c.25-30 years) to longer styles, as demonstrated by the large quantity of dark brown wavy hair set in partially twisted lengths recovered intact in association with Burial No. 91. Although the hair itself was discovered completely detached from the skull, it was possible to determine that it would originally have been set at shoulder length.

The best preserved hair, however, was found in the well padded Burial No. 85 (nicknamed Paddy), a female of c.20-25 years of age. Careful removal of the upper layers of matting and linen pads allowed the hair to be preserved intact on the head, particularly the delicate free-hanging hair ends around the shoulder area that give the most accurate idea of the original hair length. Further study back in the lab revealed an original shoulder length style of natural waves, extending c.22 cm from the crown, with a left side parting and an asymmetrical fringe made up of S-shape curls bordering the eyes. In addition to the excellent preservation of Paddy's cranial hair, her right eyebrow had also survived intact beneath the layers of protective wrappings,

Further facial hair recovered in association with the redheaded man in Burial No. 79 appears to have been cut with a sharp blade, while analysis of one mass of hair discovered last season proved to be an almost complete beard, possibly the oldest surviving example yet found! Body hair was also found during both seasons, including underarm and pubic hair.

Hierakonpolis was the first identifiable Egyptian capital of a developing dynastic regime. The date of these burials was around 3600 BC. According to the Nekhen web site,

http://www.hierakonpolis.org/

Map of Egypt with prehistoric sites marked

Well before the construction of the pyramids, Hierakonpolis was one of the largest urban centers along the Nile -- a vibrant, bustling city containing many of the features that would later come to typify Dynastic Egyptian civilization. Stretching for over 3 miles along the edge of the Nile flood plain, already by 3500 BC it was a city of many neighborhoods and quarters.

Over a century of archaeological research, continuing with the present Hierakonpolis Expedition, has confirmed this vast site's central role in the transition from prehistory to history of the rise of early Egyptian civilization.

 

 

 

Thus we can see that all shades of hair were found at this date, from dark brown, to auburn, to red, to blond. This is the spectrum of hair color we find today among the people of North Europe and North America, or what might be called Celtic colors. The hair was definitely Caucasian, and not Negroid.

Another illustration may be seen from the elaborate tomb ofMeresankh III, the granddaughter of King Khufu of the 4th Dynasty. This beautifully sculptured and painted tomb was built by her mother, Hetepheres II. Royal intrigue and murder was well along by that time in Egyptian culture. Hetepheres was first marrid to Prince Kewab, the son of Khufu, and rightful heir to the throne. But he was murdered by Ra'Djedef, who then took the throne and Hetepheres for his wife. Meresanky III married Khephren, a brother, to keep it all in the family, but died during the reign ofShepseskhaf.

Hetepheres placed herself in a wall painting showing her hair (or headdress) as red. The pool quality of the reproduced photographs make the colors doubtful, but eyewitness reports tell us it was red. You can see how someone touched up the first photograph to sharpen the colors.

The Skeletal Evidence From Naqada

Flinders Petrie and other excavators shipped thousands of the sand mummies back to England and other parts of Europe. Preserved in the back rooms and basements of museums, they became the subject of detailed study over the years. Only recently, with greatly enhanced forensic science, are their deeper secrets beginning to be revealed. They can now be examined for disease, precise age at death, and life styles. DNA analysis also permits classification into groups of common genetic origin. Unfortunately, much of that work has yet to be done.

Little understood at the time of the grave mummy discoveries more than a hundred years ago, the expectation was that the early Egyptians were of Negroid origin. When evidence began to emerge that this view was incorrect the researchers were somewhat at a loss.

In a report on A Second Study of the Variation and Correlation of the Human Skull, with Special Reference to the Naqada Crania, Biometrika, Vol 1, pg 408, 1902 Cicely D  Fawcett published, for those days, a startling observation. In a foot note on page 412 she stated:

Some of the skull boxes contained the dry scalp with the hair upon it in a remarkable state of preservation. It was dark brown in short curly twists. In two cases there were locks of some brilliant golden hair, but on careful examination, for which I thank Dr. W. A. Osborne, dark brown single hairs were extracted from it, and it appeared that the whole had been bleach; possibly this is the earliest case on record of the hair-dyer's handicraft.

The difficulty is that this brilliant blond hair, with curly locks, was the same as still displayed by Ginger in the British Museum, and as found in the excavations at Hierakonpolis. The observation by Osborne a hundred years ago was an attempt to bring understanding to such phenomenal golden hair -- wishful thinking.

From her study of the Naqada skulls, Fawcett noted that:

The great body of the race was of one type, strongly like the races on either hand of Egypt, the Libyans of Africa, and the Amorites of Syria . . . The type in external appearance may be summed up from portraiture as having a well-formed head with finely domed top; a long, slightly aquinine nose; good lips, and a pointed beard. The hair was brown, abundant and wavy; the eyes, as shown in paintings of the Amorites, was blue.

This is further evidence of the racial features of the early Egyptians.

For a discussion on the Amorites click here.

Other Genetic Evidence

All of this information shows that the genetic attributes of the Semitic stocks from the Near East were similar to the early Egyptians. This is confirmed from other studies

In her continuing studies on the Naqada skulls Fawcett noted:

In some respects, indeed, the modern Negro is closer to the later Egyptians, Thebans, or Copts, than to the Naqadas. (The Negro) stands on the whole nearer to the Egyptian group than to races like the German or Aino (Japanese), but it seems impossible to assert that he is closer to the Naqadas than to the later Egyptians. If the historic Egyptians are to be treated as distinct from the Negroes, then certainly the Naqadas are.  . . .Our general (skull) averages are quite sufficient to show that we are dealing with distinct races, and one which 6,000 or 7,000 years ago was as distinct from the Negro as it is today.

If we accept the general proposition that the Naqadas, Thebans, and Copts are for a number of characters so closely related that we are bound to consider them as in bulk the same stock, we are still forced to the conclusion that in certain (skull) characters a progressive evolution has taken place, for these characters have substantially changed.

She goes on to comment that

There is no trace of " neanderthaloid " skulls in the collection.   This is more or less confirmed by the probable Nagada stature, which is well above that of continental neolithic or palaeolithic man, above the French and South German commonality of today, just above the English criminal classes and only 2 to 3 cms. below the upper-class English. Its nearest equivalent is the modern Nubian. There is nothing, whatever, which would lead us to believe that we are dealing with a markedly primitive type . . .

If we can put aside Fawcett's social prejudice, common a hundred hears ago, we can see that she  means middle dynastic Egypt with her use of the term Theban. Copts means Ptolemaic or Roman Egyptians. Thus she is distinguishing the fact that Negro blood had entered the Egyptian stocks in later times, but did not appear among the early Naqada people. She also emphasizes that skull genetic differences were measurable among English social classes, and that the Naqada people could be compared with the higher classes of modern Europe. Distinguishing genetic features was present in the Egyptians of 3500 BC.

We can see from the above pictures that Ginger fits within these classifications.

Evidence From Later Dynastic Mummies

In Faces of the Pharaohs: Royal Mummies and Coffins from Ancient Thebes, Robert Partridge briefly describes mummies and coffins of the 17th to 21st Dynasties, The Rubicon Press, London, 1994.

I offer examples of his descriptions which show that most Pharaohs of that period did not have the Negroid features displayed by Akhnaten and Tutankhamun.

Sequenenre (Tao) c.1560 BC, 17th Dynasty:

In life Sequenenre was slender and muscular with a small, long, barrel-shaped head, covered with long black curly hair.

Queen Ahmose-Hentempet, c. 1580 BC, 17th Dynasty:

Photograph shows the head covered with thick dark wavy hair, dressed as in modern style.

Lady Rai, c. 1540 BC, 18th Dynasty:

Rai had abundant hair, arranged in small plaits which were divided into two thick masses on either side of her head.

Amenhotep II, c. 1419 BC, 18th Dynasty:

The head was covered with wavy brown hair which had turned gray at the temples.

Queen Meryet-Amun, c. 1440 BC, 18th Dynasty:

Her hair was brown, with no traces of gray, and is wavy. As seen in other mummies, the natural hair is interwoven with fake braids and tresses of the hair the same color as hers.

The tomb of Maiherpri, date uncertain, 18th Dynasty:

Included in the objects discovered in the tomb was a fine papyrus, illustrating the Book of the Dead. Maiherpri is shown offering to the Gods and whilst he is shown with the normal profile of men of the period, his skin is painted dark brown rather than the usual red ochre and his hair is shown as being short and curly. At various times in recent history, the racial origins of the Ancient Egyptians have excited a great deal of interest and this papyrus clearly shows how different skin colors were accurately depicted andthat a darker skin was the exception rather than the rule.

The well preserved body of Maiherpri was revealed, showing him to be Negroid . . .

I point out that in later dynastic Egypt, darker skin colors were the exception, rather than the rule.

Queen Tiye, c. 1340 BC, 18th Dynasty:

The body is of a middle aged woman, with long, naturally curled, dark brown hair some thirty centimeters in length, parted in the center of the head. The features of the face are fine and pointed. The teeth are well worn.

Tutankhamun, c. 1330 BC, 18th Dynasty:

Partridge goes into a detailed description of the destruction of Tutankhamun's mummy in attempts by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon to strip it of valuables. It was dismembered, and the remaining pieces were in such poor condition that the color of his skin could not be determined. How unfortunate!

Siptah, c 1190 BC, 19th Dynasty:

The mummy had a thick crop of red-brown curly hair.

Many of the mummies show an outstanding feature. The wall paintings of Egyptian tombs show royal men with a red skin, and royal women with white or cream color.  Many Egyptian mummies were thus painted (if they were not Negroid) in death, with red and yellow ochre.

The Case for Rameses II

Pharaoh Ramesses II

Ramesses II of the 19th Dynasty, (1279 to 1213 BC) is the most famous of all Pharaohs of ancient Egypt. Many believe he was the Pharaoh who ruled when the Children of Israel escaped from bondage under Moses.

In 1975 the Egyptian government asked French scientists to attempt preservation of the mummy of Ramesses. It was shipped to Paris where the work was done. This event offered an opportunity for forensic examination to determine his age, body condition, health, diet, and so on. One area of major interest was his racial affinities. The Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop was claiming that Ramesses was black. After the work was complete the mummy was returned in a hermetically sealed casket, and it has remained hidden from public view ever since, concealed in the bowels of the Cairo Museum. The results of the study were published in a lavishly illustrated work, edited by L. Balout, C. Roubet and C. Desroches-Noblecourt, and titled La Momie de Ramsès II: Contribution Scientifique à l'Égyptologie (1985).

Professor P. F. Ceccaldi, with a research team, studied some hairs from the mummy's scalp. Ramesses II was 87 years-old when he died, and his hair had turned white. Ceccaldi determined that the reddish-yellow color of the hair was due to a dye with a dilute henna solution. As we saw earlier, many Egyptians dyed their hair, and this personal habit was preserved by the embalmers. However, traces of the hair's original color remained in the roots. Microscopic examinations showed that the hair roots contained natural red pigments, and that therefore, during his younger days, Ramesses II had been a red head. Analysis concluded that these red pigments did not result from the hair somehow fading, or otherwise being altered after death, but did represent Ramesses' natural hair color. Ceccaldi also studied the cross-section of the hairs, and determined from their oval shape, that Ramesses had been "cymotrich" (wavy-haired). Finally, he stated that such a combination of features showed that Ramesses had been a "leucoderm" (white-skinned person). Refer to the above report.

Balout and the other forensic specialists were under no illusions as to the significance of this discovery. They concluded:

"After having achieved this immense work, an important scientific conclusion remains to be drawn: the anthropological study and the microscopic analysis of hair, carried out by four laboratories: Judiciary Medecine (Professor Ceccaldi), Société L'Oréal, Atomic Energy Commission, and Institut Textile de France showed that Ramses II was a 'leucoderm', that is a fair-skinned man, near to the Prehistoric and Antiquity Mediterranean's, or briefly, of the Berber of Africa."

For more information on the Berbers, click here.

The fact of red-headed Egyptians has not only anthropological interest however, but also great symbolic importance. In ancient Egypt, the god Seth was said to have been red-haired, and redheads were claimed to have worshipped the god devoutly. See G. A. Wainwright, The Sky-Religion in Egypt: Its Antiquity and Effects, Cambridge University Press, 1938, pgs 31, 33, 53. In the Ramesses study by the French, the Egyptologist Desroches-Noblecourt discussed the importance of Ramesses' rufous condition. She noted that the Ramessides (the family of Ramesses II), were devoted to Seth, with several bearing the name Seti, which means "beloved of Seth". She concluded that the Ramessides believed themselves to be divine descendants of Seth, with their red hair as proof of their lineage. She speculated that Ramesses II may have been descended from a long line of redheads.

Her speculations have been proved correct: Joann Fletcher, as a consultant to the British Bioanthropology Foundation, has proved that Seti I, the father of Ramesses II, had red hair. See L. Parks, "Ancient Egyptians Wore Wigs," Egypt Revealed, May 29, 2000. Other investigators have demonstrated that the mummy of Pharaoh Siptah, a great-grandson of Ramesses II, had red hair. See my reference to Partridge above.

All of these features are characteristic of the Celtic people we know from history and today.

We now can see how strongly the evidence refutes the ideas of Afrocentrism.

 

HOME BACK TO TOP