"Each part of the world recapitulates, shares in and experiences the history of the world as a whole"
Fernand Braudel

Bust from a Female Statuette

datation
Beginning of New Kingdom, 1550-1450 BC
provenance
Elephantine Island, Aswan
area
period
materials
themes

This small torso found in the Elephantine Island in Aswan originally belonged to a statuette of woman seated on a square seat with her arms placed on her thighs. The seat was extended at the back by a dorsal pillar which would have contained a column of hieroglyph that would have informed us on the name and title of this woman.

This statuette fits into a category of sculptures well attested in the early New Kingdom: a fine copy being the statuette of Tetiseneb, which is preserved in the Museum of Hanover. The hairstyle is typical of this period. She wears a wig, or at least a hairpiece connected to the hair. A heavy roll of hair goes along with the oval of the face and continues with two sections that fall on either side. At the back, the hair is brought back at the level of the occipital bone where three broad strands of hair are tied together and fall again on the shoulders.

Often hair is divided into three masses, one of which falls behind and the two others are brought forward onto the chest. The statue of Queen Nofret, kept in the Cairo Museum, reminiscent of a mode from the Middle Kingdom with a heavy wig piece falling onto the chest in a large curl, associated with the goddess Hathor.

Caring for the hair and wig usage are well attested in ancient Egypt as evidenced by numerous examples of toilette scenes, for example on the sarcophagus of “Princess” Kawit from the early Middle Kingdom (Cairo Museum). Hairstyles change with the times and fashion. Wigs found in tombs of the New Kingdom can be seen today in the Cairo Museum or the British Museum. They are made of bits or/and braids treated with beeswax and hung in a net. Hairpieces are mostly made from human hair.

In love songs, does not the loved one have “hair like real lapis lazuli”, similar to those of the gods? This image is reminiscent of the bluish colour of a beautiful jet hair. The hair is part of the assets and charm of a woman, it seems even a tool of seduction particularly appreciated as in the tale of two brothers where the poor Bata is accused to have said to his treacherous sister-in-law, “Come, let us spend an hour (together), we go to bed. Put your wig on.”

Men could also wear wigs in daily life.

This importance of hair is attested in many other civilizations. Just consider the Oriental world where men were bearded with long hair; or the Assyrian kings with frizzled hair and beards. Even today, from Nubians to black Africa we rediscover this care taken with hairstyles by their infinite varieties such as locks, braids, toupees, partings, and twists, made of real “hair sculptures” that we can see depicted in certain sculptures of African art by the Baule or Fangs people.

Hairstyles, in addition to wigs, are social and even political markers. The example is given to us from Roman times when the imperial fashion was imitated in even the most remote provinces. Elaborate hairstyles, and sometimes the even more sophisticated ones of empresses, can be found (more or less well imitated) on stucco masks found in certain graves of Egypt. This is also true for men, but to a lesser extent; as they sometimes seem to borrow curly hairs and beards from the imperial portraits.

Today, these ancient modes and influences can serve to better understand and date certain discoveries.

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