Perhaps the most iconic of ancient cultures is the Egyptian civilization. It lasted for 3,000 years with very little change.
For comparison, imagine, if you can, America remaining unchanged for 3,000 years. Because of our obsession with acquiring “things,” the explosion of knowledge because of the invention of the “scientific method,” often fatal confrontations over ideological and religious differences, exploding populations worldwide competing for resources and mere living space; the current pace of change is unprecedented in human history. We are accelerating into the future and virtually everything is in a constant state of flux.
If we zoom in on ancient Egypt about 1350 years BC, we find the civilization in as conflicted a state as it would get until its demise. The pharaoh Akhenaten and his principal wife Nefertiti led the empire. Akhenaten reduced the various gods the people worshipped to secondary status in favor of just one main god, Aten, perhaps the first instance in human history of worshiping a single all powerful deity. This threw religious practices into chaos and didn’t win Akhenaten any points with the priesthood, but everyday living changed very little.
Because an almost complete bust of Nefertiti exists and also several murals from inside tombs, we know what these people looked like. Nefertiti is wearing makeup including lipstick and has dark eyeliner around her eyes. She is wearing a crown but her head is shaved of all hair.
In ancient Egypt, every adult shaved off all body hair. Archeologists have found many “razors” made of solid gold. This health practice eliminated the most favored dwelling places of body lice. Both men and women wore makeup. The dark eyeliner, considered a mark of beauty, helped reduce the glare of the desert sun, and also helped repel flies.
The diet of Egyptians was heavy in garlic, onions, fish and whole grains. While clothing was generally sparse on all Egyptians (it was after all a hot desert environment) they washed their clothing. They bathed, used deodorant made of flowers and spices and juniper, cleaned their teeth with a mixture of salt and mint, and believed that the internal body should be cleansed and used castor oil as a laxative.
One of their more interesting medical tests was to determine pregnancy. It involved a simple urine test. Without getting into the specifics, it was effective and has been borne out by modern medicine.
Of course all was not paradise in Egypt. The people were dependent upon the Nile River where they caught fish, washed their clothing, bathed and drank the same water into which human and animal waste ran. But the survival of their culture for such a long time indicates their biology must have adapted to the different bacteria present. It was the epitome of a “conservative” culture, stable and unchanging. And western civilization, beginning with the ancient Greeks, adopted many of their personal habits some of which have been passed down to us.
A life-long resident of northern Minnesota, Terry Mejdrich is a former math teacher and farmer turned mystery author and freelance writer.