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Henna in the Ancient World

By Noam Sienna

[Snip] The earliest potential records of henna use come from Egypt. Mummified bodies have been found with what appears to be henna-dyed hair and hennaed fingers; the mummy of Ramses II, among others, was noted to have hennaed fingertips and toes. The earliest of these findings dates back to the predynastic period of Egypt, approximately 3400 BCE.

Infra-red analysis has confirmed that the orange-red colouring is consistent with the active molecular ingredient in henna, hydroxy-naphthoquinone; the results of the microscopy also suggest, interestingly, that the henna was applied after death. If so, this may perhaps indicate the use of henna in some kind of mourning ritual or ceremony for the dead. While the mummy of Ramses II has henna-dyed hair, microscopic analysis confirms that he was in fact red headed in his youth; it could be suggested, therefore, that the henna was applied to restore his youthful appearance, either in his old age or during the mummification process.

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