Thursday, February 11, 2010


Andre Willers
11 Feb 2010

Synopsis :
Why did Neolithic , Bronze-age and iron age peoples shave? How did they do it ?

The shavers:
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:\\ "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 "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 .)

Lubricant :
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 .

Theory :
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 "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 "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 ,

Andre .

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