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The social and ritual contextualisation of Ancient Egyptian hair and hairstyles from the Protodynastic to the end of the Old Kingdom

Tassie, G.J.; (2009) The social and ritual contextualisation of Ancient Egyptian hair and hairstyles from the Protodynastic to the end of the Old Kingdom. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Hair, the most malleable part of the human body, lends itself to the most varied forms of impermanent modifications. The resulting hairstyles convey social practices and norms, and may be regarded as part of the “representation of self” and an integral element in the maintenance and structuring of society. In this thesis, a systematic and quantative investigation has been undertaken of the structural relationships between variations in hairstyles and principal changes in social organisation in ancient Egypt from the Protodynastic to the end of the Old Kingdom (3,350-2,181 BC), a period that witnessed the rise, consolidation and eventually breakdown of centralised authority. The results reveal that hairstyles were linked to the identity of individuals and social groups, such as men, women, children and the elderly. Hairstyles were used as a means of displaying status. After experimentation with a broad spectrum of hairstyles during the Protodynastic and early Dynasty I, an institutionalised canon for hairstyles was established, coinciding with the creation of administrative institutions. These codified hairstyles continued to serve as the norms for identifying members of the administration or signs of authority. By the end of the Old Kingdom, the hairstyles of the elite had been adopted by the lower officials of the increased bureaucracy and provincial elites as representations of their newly acquired power and status. Although initially the majority of the men had their hair cut short, modifications of short hair and the adoption of mid- and shoulder-length hair became progressively common. The use of certain hairstyles was restricted to the higher social offices, with longer hair being emblematic of power and divinity. Women, by contrast, initially had long hair with greater variety occurring by Dynasty I and a more restricted array from Dynasty II onwards. However, long hair was predominant among women of all social statuses in all periods. Long hair may have thus been related to the perception of women as mothers (responsible for childbirth and nursing), and hence their perceived role as directly linked with procreation and fecundity. Although the adoption of the tripartite by high officials was related to this ‘generative’ aspect of feminine hairstyles, it was primarily in imitation of the God Osiris and his regenerative powers.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The social and ritual contextualisation of Ancient Egyptian hair and hairstyles from the Protodynastic to the end of the Old Kingdom
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
Additional information:Copyright restricted material has been removed from this version
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences > Institute of Archaeology

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