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Title: Ritual anointing : an investigation into the coatings applied to human hair and coffins in ancient Egypt
Author: McCreesh, Natalie Claire
ISNI:       0000 0004 2685 9286
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2009
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In ancient Egypt the body was often anointed with scented oils and unguents not only for everyday toilette but also for ritual and religious ceremonies. The main religious context was during mummification when the body was anointed with unguents during ritual parts of the procedure, and also with substances for preservation. In some instances the anointing was extended to include the entire mummy, cartonnage, coffin and funerary furniture such as shabti boxes. Whilst extensive research into the materials used for preservation has been carried out, it has focused on samples taken from the body and bandages. This study explores anointing in ancient Egypt by analysing samples from ancient remains, analysed by microscopy and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. In some rare circumstances the wrapped mummy, cartonnage, coffin and funerary items were coated with a black unguent, the composition and purpose of which was unknown. Coating such items which included finely painted scenes with an opaque black substance raised the question whether the coating was intended to be black or not? The hypothesis was that if the coating contained bitumen (a naturally black substance), then it would have been black at the time of application. If it was resin based however it would have been translucent at the time of application, turning black through oxidisation over time. GC-MS results show that the coating did contain bitumen, thus the coating of the artefacts with a black substance was purposeful. This implies that the act of coating the artefacts was more important than the finely painted scenes being visible, and likely it was applied for ritual purposes. The hair and head were a focus for anointing during the funerary ritual, and were also covered with bandages during mummification. Due to the fondness of the ancient Egyptians for hair dressing, it was also possible that unguents may have been used for this purpose too. It was unknown whether the hair was covered with embalming material as was the entire body. Analyses showed that the treatment of the hair varied greatly, perhaps just due to personal preference. Some mummies were found with the embalming materials covering the entire head, often the case when the hair was shaved. Other mummies with extensively styled hair did not have any embalming material applied to the hair at all. In some cases fat was used as a fixative to style the hair, much like modern hair gel. This also indicated the hair, when long, was actually covered over with a cloth to protect it rather than be included in the pile of natron used to dry out the body for mummification. Another significant finding was that the red coloured hair often seen on mummified remains was caused by the embalming material and degradation of the hair, not by henna dye as has been previously suggested. The analytical techniques utilised <1mg of sample, proving that positive results can be gained from tiny amounts of sample. This is particularly important for rare archaeological remains.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available