Egyptian Red Hair

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This is my second post about non-stereotypical hair. See my first one here.

If I were to ask you to draw an Ancient Egyptian, you would probably draw someone with gold, reddish, or dark skin, long dark eyes, and black hair. Red hair would probably not appear in your drawing. However, there has been a red-haired strain in Egyptian genetics apparently from time immemorial.

Ramses II, 90 years old when he died, was tall, thin, and by the time of his death he was stooped and had a tooth abscess. He also had red-gold hair. “Specialists who examined the strands under a microscope found that it had been dyed with henna and in all likelihood had been auburn in Ramses’ youth” (Time-Life, p. 153). Tall, thin, red-haired and hook-nosed, Ramses II does not match my mental picture of a typical Egyptian.

But he is not the only one. A number of red-haired Egyptian mummies have been found. Archaeologists used to assume that the hair was once dark and had been bleached out by the embalming process. But a recent study treated hair samples with the natron salts similar to those the Egyptians used, and found that the process did not change the color of the hair. Apparently these were actually redheads.

When I was taught Egyptian mythology in school, I was told that Seth, the villain of the story of Isis and Osiris, was red-haired. He was also Osiris’ brother. I found this intriguing, and it reminded me of the Semitic story of Jacob and Esau, who were twins one of whom was a dark-haired (?), “smooth” man, and one of whom was “hairy” and “red.”

Now I find out that Seth, as his legend later developed, was a trickster god, usually portrayed as a composite of different animals, with red hair or fur. Also, red was a symbolic color that could represent vitality or anger (no surprise there). So it’s possible that Seth was an entirely invented character and that his unusual hair color was picked to match his personality and symbolism. But, since this is an ancient origin myth, I can’t shake the possibility that there once was actually a founding pair of brothers, one of whom was dark-haired and one of whom was red. (Also, shades of the original Thor, a quick-tempered, red-haired, trickster god!)

If Red Hair is Native to Egypt, Does This Mean that Ancient Egyptians were Indo-Europeans?

No.

It just means that, as for most people groups worldwide, their genetics were more complex than the layperson would first imagine.

The ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians has been a hugely contested topic. Their civilization is so intriguing that everyone wants to claim them. Eurocentrists have tried to claim that the Egyptians were actually “Mediterranean” (specifically the Hellenistic, European-style Mediterranean), because this supports their dogma that Europeans have been the only source of civilization and there has never been a high civilization to come out of Africa. Afrocentrists have countered by claiming the ancient Egyptians were not only not white, but were truly black, the ancestors of the modern-day sub-Saharan Africans. The world’s first high civilizations were African, and everyone else has stolen their ideas!

Both groups are wrong about the ethnicity of the ancient Egyptians. Genetic studies of mummies are difficult to do, and this is truer the older the mummies are, but so far, they have concluded that Egyptians have more or less always been … Egyptian. Uniquely themselves, more closely related to the peoples of the Levant than to any others, and genetically, more or less just like the Egyptians of today.

Also, Could We Stop the Tug-of-War?

And may I just add, this is stupid, human race? Could we please (and when I say we, I mean you, human race) stop all this “I started civilization” “No, I did”?

First of all, Egypt was not the world’s first civilization. Contemporary with them, we have the Sumerians, who though they did not live in Africa were probably also black, and the little-known Balkan civilization that gave us the Vinca signs. And there are good indications that many civilizations existed just as advanced as, and prior to, these. See all my posts about The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age by Richard Rudgley.

The Afrocentrists are closer to being right than the Eurocentrists. Arthur C. Custance makes the case,

One does not think of Africa as particularly inventive. As a matter of fact, however, so many new things came from that great continent during Roman times that they had a proverb, “Ex Africa semper aliquid,” which freely translated means, “There is always something new coming out of Africa.”

It is true to say that whatever inventiveness [Indo-Europeans] have shown in the past three or four centuries has almost always resulted from stimulation from non-Indo-Europeans. Our chief glory has been the ability to improve upon and perfect the inventions of others, often to such an extent that they appear to be original developments … [I]t does not seem proper to call a people “inventive” who once in a while do invent something, but who 99% of the time merely adapt the inventions of others to new ends.

Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, pp. 199, 215

That said, the idea that any one nationality can claim to have founded civilization is … stupid, human race. Human beings are really smart and civilization springs up wherever they go. Lots of people have invented civilization, many times.

(Furthermore, even if your ancestors did build the Parthenon or the Pyramids or Notre Dame, you didn’t build them personally, did you? Do you really want to start taking credit for amazing stuff that people who share your genetics did 3,000 years ago? Are you also going to take credit for all the atrocities they committed? Human race, you are too smart for this stupid idea.)

Egyptian Red Hair Makes an Appearance in The Long Guest

Nimri, the anti-hero of my novel The Long Guest, is a Cushite, who per Genesis is related to “Egypt.” Mid-novel, after being separated from his own people and dragged off on a journey over the Asia steppes, he observes some red-haired Indo-Europeans.

When I first saw that redhaired fellow I was reminded of my relative Mizra.  He had red –gold hair and bright burnished skin like my own – only even more ruddy, just a shade darker than his hair.  He was tall and thin, with a long thin arrogant face.  Between that and his unusual coloring, he was a very striking-looking man.  He used to stalk around the architects’ complex like a very god … how we all admired him, and wanted to be like him!  But no one could compare to Mizra. 

The Long Guest, Chapter 13

The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mizraim, which is actually plural: “Egypts.” Rather than making Nimri’s relative’s name plural, I have simply called him Mizra.

Nimri never manages to tell anyone about Mizra, because he cannot yet communicate at this stage in the story. But I can tell you. In case you didn’t know, I’ll whisper it in your ear: Some Egyptians had red hair.

Sources

Color (iwen)” Ancient Egypt: the Mythology

Custance, Arthur C. Noah’s Three Sons, The Doorway Papers series vol. 1, Zondervan, 1975. pp. 155 – 216 discuss “The [Technological] Inventiveness of the Hamitic Peoples.” Or you can read the chapter here.

“Isis: Egyptian Goddess,” Britannica.

New Research Shows that Some Ancient Egyptians were Naturally Fair-Haired,” Ancient Origins, 2 May 2016

Perry, Philip. “Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know,” Big Think, June 11, 2017

Ramses II: Magnificence on the Nile, by the editors of Time-Life books, Time-Life Books, Alexandria, Virginia, 1993. p. 153 shows the red-gold hair on the mummy of Ramses II.

Schuenemann, Verena J., et. al., “Ancient Egyptian mummy genomes suggest an increase of Sub-Saharan African ancestry in post-Roman periods,” Nature.com, 30 May 2017. This is the study that the Big Think article is summarizing.

“Seth: Egyptian God,” Britannica.

Dutch Curly Hair

I am Dutch-American. What I got out of it was good bone structure, “Kraklen” cookies (so good!), a fondness for black licorice, a few mild swear words such as swatakat (translation: “black cat”), curly hair (more on that later), and the phrase, “If you’re not Dutch, you’re not much.”

That last one is tongue-in-cheek, of course. After all, we are Dutch American. But if you look at history, it does neatly encapsulate the national attitude.

One Cheer for the Dutch

The Dutch had their national moment, as it were, during the seventeenth century (1600s). They provided a refuge of religious freedom for the Pilgrims, mostly because at that time the Dutch didn’t care about separatism nearly as much as King James did.

In North America, they set up a trading post at New Amsterdam (Manhattan Island), but made the mistake of fixing upon a feudal-style system where only Dutch West India Company members could own land, and their serfs were forbidden by law from leaving. This did not encourage growth, and the place struggled until the English conquered it, re-named it New York, and allowed English things like local control of government, free immigration and trade, and land ownership for everyone. After that it really took off, and … well, you see it today.

Meanwhile, the Dutch East India Company was distinguishing itself in Indonesia, where in order to ensure its own access to spices, it would eventually become a harsh colonial power and rule for centuries, until its grip was weakened by Japan (on-site) and Hitler (back home).

While in Indonesia, the Dutch did manage to get a monkey named after them. The Indonesians called the proboscis monkey kera Belanda, i.e. “Dutch monkey,” because of its big nose and reddish skin.

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Good bone structure!

I don’t think the Dutch sent their nicest people to Indonesia. Or to Manhattan. But, during this same period, Holland did have some amazing citizens. For example, they had Rembrandt.

Rembrandt van Rijn

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“Rembrandt van Rijn was born in Leyden, Holland [the same city where the Pilgrims took refuge] in 1606. He was one of nine children and the son of a miller [and so they probably had a windmill!]. His family was Calvinist by faith … Rembrandt married Saskia, a Dutch woman whom he dearly loved. For a short period they enjoyed a life of happiness and prosperity and many were acclaiming him to be the greatest artist of the century. But Rembrandt never displayed an exalted opinion of himself… During the early years of success, he obtained a studio in the ghetto where he spent much of his time painting the impoverished people of Amsterdam. The ghetto was where he found his characters for biblical paintings, such as Abraham, Isaac, and many of the old prophets. Meanwhile, Saskia enjoyed the luxury that came with her husband’s success. Unfortunately, all this was short lived.

“They would have two daughters who died during infancy. Then, there was good news as they gave birth to a healthy son whom they named Titus. Shortly thereafter, Saskia fell ill and died. Rembrandt was greatly grieved by these family losses, and never remarried. It wasn’t long after these tragedies that he had to declare bankruptcy, losing everything he owned, including his great art collection. All that was spared him were his paints and brushes. Then, one year before his own death, the only remaining member of his family, Titus, died at the age of 27.

“Truly Rembrandt was a man of sorrows. But none of his emotions or energy went for naught, as he continued to paint with all the fervor of his youth. During his deep moments of suffering, he would always revert back to doing paintings of Jesus Christ. These biblical stories were done more for his own satisfaction [than for sale], as there were over seventy biblical paintings in his possession just a few years before his death.” (God & the History of Art, pp. 65 – 68)

Rembrandt’s Self-Portraits

Rembrandt did approximately 100 self-portraits, which brings me to what this Dutch-American blogger has in common with him besides the national origin and, of course, the crazy talent. If you want to see a few of them (and they are delightful), follow this link to the Human Pages site.

Of course there are so many things to love about these portraits, especially the Impressionist-looking one where an aged Rembrandt is smiling at the camera. (That must have been fun to paint.) But one thing that struck me about them was the curly hair. Look at that curly hair! In the very young self-portrait, it shades his face in a hood of frizz. Perhaps he had just washed it.

I have hair of about the same texture. When treated well (i.e. not washed for while), it settles into loose curls. When treated poorly, it frizzes. I got this curly hair from my Dutch American grandfather. Never got to see it on his head, because he went bald before I was born, so I didn’t know what was coming. But the hair lives on in me and in several other members of my family. It wasn’t until I saw these self-portraits of Rembrandt that I realized these are genuine, trademark Dutch curls.

Every nationality has things to be ashamed of and things to be proud of. I am proud of Rembrandt (though I can’t take any credit for him), and I am happy to share, if nothing else, his hair.

Sources

DeMar, Gary, et. al. Building a City on a Hill. American Vision, Inc., 1997, rev. ed. 2005. Chapter 25: “New Netherland Becomes New York,” p. 289 ff.

Stebbing, Barry. God & the History of Art I, 2nd ed. How Great Thou ART publications, 2001.