I am back! This week’s post is short and sweet, but still very interesting. This mummy is unfortunately just a head of an unnamed woman, but her mummified skin holds some secrets of ancient Egyptian cosmetics.
This head most likely belonged to a woman who was buried in the Theban Necropolis during the 18th dynasty. The head most likely appeared in the Cairo Museum between 1898 and 1930, probably excavated, donated, or sold to the museum.
It was then sold to a Spanish collector and banker Ignacio Bauer. Finally it was donated to the Real Sociedad de Arqueologia, Anthropolygiay Prehistoria in Madrid. This is where the head is currently located today.
At first this head was thought to be the beheaded skull of a Guinean woman, but in 2007 researchers traced it back to Egypt.
The mummy was probably around 20 to 25 years old when she died. The most intriguing thing about the head were a series of tiny nodules found underneath the cheeks and on the back of the neck. This condition points to a skin disorder or dermatosis called exogenous ochronosis. This is characterized by a blue black pigmentation.
This condition typically results from the long term application of skin lightening or bleaching products. Now obviously studies of this condition are centered around modern skin lightening products so regarding this ancient Egyptian mummy, the results are not clear.
Ancient Egyptian cosmetics sometimes contained lead as a primary ingredient, which could have caused this condition. This means that the ancient Egyptian woman may have not be using product to bleach her skin, but simply a normal Egyptian cosmetic that had an ingredient that caused the skin inflammation.
This is why personally I would move away from the title of “Bleached Mummy.”
Cosmetics in ancient Egypt are also related to the religious and magical parts of Egyptian life, so this may have been more than an aesthetic choice.