Ancient Egyptians wouldn't be caught dead without hair gel. Style in the afterlife was just as important as it was during life on Earth – and coiffure was key.
To this end, men and women alike would have their tresses styled with a fat-based "gel" when they were embalmed. The evidence of their vanity has been found in a community cemetery dating back 3000 years.
Tomb paintings depict people with cone-shaped objects sitting on their heads, thought to be lumps of scented animal fat. "Once we started looking [for these], we found interesting hairstyles," says Natalie McCreesh of the University of Manchester, UK. "The hair was styled and perfectly curled."
She and her colleagues examined hair samples from 15 mummies from the Kellis 1 cemetery in Dakhla oasis, Egypt, and a further three samples from mummies housed in museum collections in the US, the UK and Ireland. The mummies were of both sexes, between 4 and 58 years old when they died, and dated from 3500 years to 2300 years ago.
When examined with light and electron microscopes, it became clear that the hairs of most mummies were coated with a fatty substance, though a few had been coiffed with something resinous...