It’s hard to tell by looking at mummies, but many people believe that Egyptians living at the time when mummification was commonly practiced were dark-haired and dark-skinned. So how do they explain the rare blonde-haired mummies, not to mention the even more rare redheads?
The general public and a lot of egyptologists think that the ancient Egyptians had very dark brown or black hair. Forensic egyptologist Janet Davey of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Australia wasn’t quite so sure as her colleagues, so she decided to recreate the Egyptian mummification process to see this phenomenon for herself. No, she didn’t put out a call for short, dead, Pharaoh-looking Egyptians … she just asked for samples of hair.
Using 16 samples (all dark except for one grey, one fair and one dyed red with henna) from men and women ages 4 to 92, Davey covered them with a synthetic version of natron – a mixture of sodium carbonate decahydrate (soda ash), sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), sodium chloride and sodium sulfate which is found in saline lake beds in arid environments. Natural natron was used by ancient Egyptians to dry human remains. To simulate mummification, Davey left the hair in the natron for 40 days.
After 40 days of mummification, Davey found that none of the samples changed to blonde. To verify, she had them checked under a microscope by another researcher who confirmed there was no change. This was enough to convince Davey. … this shows there were fair-haired Egyptians. Some ancient Egyptians could have been blue-eyed blondes or brown-eyed blondes. Where did the rare blonde Egyptians come from? Davey says the blonde mummies were from Egypt’s Graeco-Roman period from 332 BC to around 395 AD. Fair-haired soldiers as well as traders and slaves, possibly from Scandinavian countries as well, brought their blonde genes to the Egyptian pool and few ended up in children with blonde hair and eyelashes who unfortunately died young but were fortunate enough (for us) to have families that mummified them. (….)