If you’ve read the title and immediately went “what?!” while reading it, then we’re guessing you’re not up to date with the latest mind-blowing archeological discoveries. When we try to picture Ancient Egypt, what immediately comes to mind is a civilization full of dark-haired and dark-skinned people. In the past few years, certain discoveries have led many historians to start questioning this seemingly universally known fact.
Can’t follow along? This is what we’re going to write about. Today, we’ll explore the mystery of the fair-headed mummies which may have shaken history at its core. Let’s go.
In late 2014, a group of archeologists uncovered “thousands of mummies” in the Fag el-Gamous graveyard. The mind-wobbling thing wasn’t the discovery itself; after all, Egyptians were known for preserving their dead. To gap in awe at the fact that some people managed to find a lot of corpses in a cemetery would be far-fetched to say so at least. What really struck their attention was the fact that they were all either blonde or red-haired.
Fag el-Gamous is located south of Cairo. The team that made the discovery was an archeological group from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. They’d been digging and making the discovery in the works for over 30 years until they actually managed to uncover anything. Upon further analysis, it was established that the majority of the discovered mummies dated back to 30 BC, the time period when Egypt was under Roman occupation.
Researchers reached the pretty solid conclusion that there were “over a million burials within this cemetery.” The declaration belonged to Project Director Kerry Muhlstein of the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and it was quoted from Live Science. Muhlstein wrote an entire paper on this topic, presented at the Toronto Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Scholars Colloquium. During this presentation, it was revealed that Fag el-Gamous wasn’t a graveyard for royalty, but for the common people.
This only makes the whole circumstance around fair-haired Egyptians even more ambiguous. If they were common people, it’s doubtful that they had access to any pretentious hair dyes. What is this all about then?
For the longest time, archeologists “blamed” the abnormal hair color on the mummification process, assuming that the various substances used to preserve the bodies would also alter the shade of the hair.
Forensic egyptologist Janet Davey aimed to debunk this theory, taking matters into her own hands. The Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine doctor rang up her friend Alan Elliott, a retired industrial chemist. Together, they aimed to undergo an experiment that would clear this mystery once and for all. Or, well, at the very least would disprove that it wasn’t the chemicals that lightened the mummies’ hair.
The first step was to prepare some synthetic natron, a substance reminiscent of salt which was commonly used for drying purposes during the mummification process. Many scientists attributed the hair lightening to substances like this one.
Before you start jumping and wondering where Davey and Elliott got their corpses to mummify from, don’t worry. They resorted to some hair samples only. Davey acquired 16 different hair samples, coating them in the powdery substance. She left them to be for 40 days, the time that Ancient Egyptians would let the mummies dry up for.
All of the hair samples combined a great variety. Davey took hairs from 16 different people, aged between 4 and 92. The majority of them were dark-haired, with the inclusion of a grey strand and a fair strand respectively, for comparative purposes. Some of the hair strands also had henna on it since it was a common means of dying one’s hair during Ancient Egypt. A notorious example is the mummification of Ramses II, dead aged 90.
After the time limit was up, Davey took the powder natron off the strands of hair and noted that they were all unchanged. She went to further lengths to prove this, attempting to analyze the structure of the hairs on a microscopic level as well. She reached out and called on Gale Spring at RMIT, asking for a thorough analysis of the hair on a cellular level. As expected, the results confirmed that there was no change.
“The general public and a lot of egyptologists think that the ancient Egyptians had very dark brown or black hair,” Davey concluded. “But this shows there were fair-haired Egyptians.”
Don’t misunderstand: no one is saying that all Egyptians were blue-eyed and blond people. However, it all ties in together with the context of the time period all these fair-haired mummies can be traced back to. Davey noted that fair-haired mummies are, actually, very rare and that she’s only seen a limited number in her entire career. This actually fueled the theories that aimed to explain the color change by blaming it on natron and other substances.
All of the fair-haired mummies unearthed date back to a time when Egypt was heavily dominated by exterior influences. Take the mummies of Fag el-Gamous for example – they date to the time of Roman occupation. Since interactions with Greeks, Romans, and other foreign civilizations, it was very possible that there was an addition to the pool of Egyptian genes.
Whether it was slaves, soldiers, or slaves, many European-rooted nations started interacting with Egyptians during the heavily internationalized period of the Greco-Roman era. Some historians estimate that Scandinavian travelers are included as well.
Regardless, the conclusion is that the result of the interracial mixes created a new branch of Egyptian people which carried out the fair-haired genes of various Greeks, Romans, Macedonians, or Scandinavians.
Is this a groundbreaking discovery? That depends on the angle you’re looking at the issue from. The majority of Egyptians remain dark-haired and dark-skinned, just as we all know them to be. But this discovery merely confirms that, at some point in history, the people of Egypt mingled with people of fair-haired civilizations. It’s no conspiracy theory or bizarre realization. Nations collide all the time, so there’s no surprise when a certain civilization adds a new drop in its gene pool.