11 Feb 2010
Why did Neolithic , Bronze-age and iron age peoples shave? How did they do it ?
Ancient Greeks and Romans (derived from Southern-Russian steppes .
Scythians , Mongols .
Egyptian priests (and by extension , Bronze-age elites) shaved . Even their heads . See Minoan statues and portraits . See any beards ?
So shave they did , and extensively .
But how did they do it ?
And where are the razors ?
Combs in plenty are found (see http:\\andreswhy.blogspot.com "Combs")
The Obsidian razor .
Obsidian is far sharper than the best steel razor .
It gives a really close shave .
In a pinch , an obsidian full-blade can be used . But it will leave nicks in the skin .
Fashion and hygiene were there first .
See http://andreswhy .blogspot.com "Hairlessness ,Fat and Fire"
Sexual selection toward hairlessness drove the process .
The technique of clamping small shards of obsidian between a wooden or bone frames developed . Used later for sickles when agriculture developed . Also for large obsidian stone-swords .
These frames were glued together , or bound with leather . Metal wire was unobtainable or impossibly expensive . (Copper and gold stretched too much . Bronze was too brittle .)
The glue , leather and wood perished with time .
What was left was small shards of obsidian , which nobody has associated with razors. (Computor topography programs used for matching shards of pottery together can be used to recreate ancient razors from the obsidian shards .)
Oil or fat . Refer to Greek strigils .
Olive oil was probably first developed as a shaving lubricant . The quite complicated process to make olives edible flowed out of the surplus of olive oil pressed for shaving purposes .
Olive trees , like most drought resistant plants , have very sophisticated defenses of a chemical nature against herbivores .
If you want to get really , really sick , eat some raw , untreated olives .
Refer to the extravagant prices scents (which were combined with oils and fats) commanded . The Egyptian priesthood and nobles anywhere did not want to smell rancid .
They might get rid of the wood-smoke smell , but that did not help if they stank of rancid fat .
Turns women right off .
Steppe dwellers in Northern Eurasia .
Notice lack of facial hair .
There seems to be a strong selection against facial hair .
The steppes in these areas have regular periods of sub-zero temperatures .
A horse rider bounces up and down . Any facial covering used against the cold chafes against frozen hairs , breaking off hairs . Broken hairshafts in the skin leads to infections .
Hence the heavy selection against beards .
Cavalry and armoured cavalry are nearly always clean-shaven or minimal on the facial hair . See tombstone-effigies of centuries of medieval knights .
Where are Alexander the Greats's razors ? Or combs for that matter .
It might be more fruitful to track his barber .
Political abreaction :
Nomads that conquered warmer areas , deliberately cultivated luxuriant beards to differentiate themselves . (Cf Assyrians , Hittites , Persians ) Especially if they fought against the Egyptians .
Something similar happened with the collapse of the western Roman empire . The barbarians deliberately went bearded to distinguish themselves from the Romans .
This happened frequently in other civilizations .
Did Neanderthals shave ?
They were cold-adapted , so they must have had beards . But without horses , they had no compelling reason to shave off facial hair . Hence some residual evidence of Neanderthal head-lice via the Homo Erectus lineage .
An interesting alternate :
If Neanderthals domesticated a riding animal (eg elk , bovines or even horses) this would have compensated for their short legs . We would probably be speaking Neanderthalese . Heavy Neanderthal cavalry would be formidable .
See http://andreswhy.blogspot.com "Death of the Neanderthal"
The Cut-throat razor .
A direct descendant of obsidian razors .
Note the elegance of design . The curved handle . The protection of the brittle blades .
The ease of use .
The blades only slightly protruding from the frame acted like a safety razor today .
It is a mini-strigil , but sharp as hell .
Why did it vanish ?
Well , it did not vanish . Just became relatively more expensive . Cheap steel replaced it for mass-use .
Obsidian is expensive . The labour to make a razor for a close shave even more so .
But a good obsidian razor is far superior to the best steel one that can be bought today
Somewhere , people are still making them .
Technologies of this type are not forgotten , but simply go underground . Cf weaving , Jacquerie looms , etc .
See http://andreswhy.blogspot.com "Ancient Babylonian IT"
A suitable present for the man who thinks he has everything .
And now for something completely different .
The Pharaoh's built the Pyramids to sharpen their razors .
From the (admittedly sketchy) physics of Pyramid Razor Sharpening , obsidian flakes should be very susceptible to sharpening .
Throw the priests a bone and the people a works project .
At least , the Pharaoh gets a close shave .
But inside every pyramid is the sharpest blade of them all .
Occam's Razor .
Hypothetically yours ,