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Looking Good, Ancient Rome
January 9, 2013 2:28 PM   Subscribe

Amateur archaeologist and "forensic hairdresser" Janet Stephens has discovered how to recreate the Seni Crines, the elaborately braided hairstyle worn by the vestal virgins. Don't miss Stephens' other classical hairstyle videos.
posted by Miko (35 comments total) 84 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll admit to skipping ahead, but the conclusions at the end of the video - and speculation about social response to the hair style, is excellent.
posted by meinvt at 2:38 PM on January 9, 2013


Oh god, forensic hairdressing, I love this and it's made of everything I love.
posted by The Whelk at 2:43 PM on January 9, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is the best.
posted by atrazine at 2:44 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This came my way via an archaeologist friend - Stephens presented it at the annual meeting of the AIA so it's not the fly-by-night kind of archaeology. If it got into the program it has good scholarly foundations.
posted by Miko at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a photo of her poster at the AIA-APA meeting: http://flickr.com/photos/by-sgillies/8366119682/in/photostream.
posted by sgillies at 2:52 PM on January 9, 2013


I don't know about you but the occupation of "hairdresser archaeologist" is unbelievably cool.
posted by Kitteh at 2:52 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seriously. 'Amateur archaeologist and forensic hairdresser' makes her sound like a cross between Indiana Jones, Lara Croft and Vidal Sassoon.

A really appealing visual, actually...
posted by widdershins at 3:00 PM on January 9, 2013 [18 favorites]


Ooh! Excellent find! This post is very relevant to my (heretofore unknown) interests.
posted by likeso at 3:00 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh man, Classical hairstyles! There were actually a couple of hairstyle posters at AIA last year (bit of a misnomer; one included several mannequin heads demonstrating there techniques). Here's a shot of a Greek one. Hairstyles are actually really useful in understanding and dating Roman portraiture-- here's a nice example from the Getty, here's the Met's amazing timeline on portraits with cameo mentions of hair (both for dudes and ladies), here's a super great article on Roman lady style, and while most of this book, Roman Portraits in Context isn't available through Google Books, it is a great read. (Your mileage may vary substantially on that last one....)

I hope she tackles this lady next.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:19 PM on January 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is there anywhere where she address cleanliness of hair (or lack of cleanliness) and how that influences hairstyles? I'm very curious to know if that makes a difference in what styles were adopted and how they worked.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:26 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very cool. I suspect that the traditionally feminine side of things is where there's a lot of unexplored archaeological research to be done, since it's been traditionally ignored or de-emphasized.
posted by rmd1023 at 3:34 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Is there anywhere where she address cleanliness of hair (or lack of cleanliness) and how that influences hairstyles?

In one of her other (shorter) videos, she says that the style actually works better with dirty, or even damaged, hair. It's also dead-easy (part your hair down the middle from front to back, take the two sections of hair and tie them in a square knot on the top of your head - you're done).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:40 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, geez, I so love the Classics and this warms the nerdy cockles of my heart.
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:55 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is awesome, and I like to think that my life path would've been significantly influenced by knowing that becoming a "hairdressing archaeologist" is, in fact, something one can do.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:55 PM on January 9, 2013


Is there anywhere where she address cleanliness of hair (or lack of cleanliness) and how that influences hairstyles? I'm very curious to know if that makes a difference in what styles were adopted and how they worked.

The Wikipedia article on hairstyles actually has a pretty good set of links to various Roman hair tools. While she's focusing on one very specific hairstyle, they did change dramatically from area to area over the various centuries, so different tools and techniques probably came and went. Many of the extremely elaborate crazy ones are probably somewhat fanciful (and, possibly, wig-based). The Atrium Ves­tae, their "house," did contain private baths (which makes sense, given their delicate status within Roman society.) Roman baths are kind of awesome and kind of horrifying; there's a Roman professor named Fagan who researches this kind of thing and he points out that many of the baths don't actually have drains, so the amount of "cleaning" the actual baths would be somewhat limited. Higher status women would have had more advanced facilities (and access to expensive oils and ointments, along with a personal supply of running water).

Then again here's what Pliny has to say on the subject:

"Leeches left to putrefy for forty days in red wine stain the hair black. Others, again, recommend one sextarius of leeches to be left to putrefy the same number of days in a leaden vessel, with two sextarii of vinegar, the hair to be well rubbed with the mixture in the sun."

So, there's that.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:56 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


Dear God.
posted by likeso at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2013


Also possibly of interest - The Caryatid Hair Styles -- The middle schoolers at my school enjoyed this presentation quite a bit.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:00 PM on January 9, 2013 [7 favorites]


"[...] putrefy for forty days [...] the hair to be well rubbed with the mixture in the sun."

The olfactory imagination is boggled.
posted by likeso at 4:01 PM on January 9, 2013


I didn't know I had any interest in this topic, and am delighted to have learned something about it. Thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:08 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is fascinating information. I really appreciate knowing more, not only about Roman hairstyles, but Rennaisance hairstyles.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:16 PM on January 9, 2013


It's an overhand knot, not a "half square knot", please. Thank you.
posted by 7segment at 4:21 PM on January 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I didn't intend to watch the whole video, but I did. Fascinating.

It also made my scalp ache as it brought back memories of my mother plaiting my hair. Ow! Ow! MOM!

It also reminded me to say FUCK YOU HBO for canceling "Rome."
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:30 PM on January 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Watched this with the Mrs. We're thinking that this will add some sweet period color to our next toga party.
posted by sy at 4:43 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Talk about burying the lede. I was all "oh that's kinda cool" until the last 10 seconds where she points out how high-ranking women would slyly ride the Virgins' coattails to power with a subtle tweak to their own hairstyle... now, THAT'S some cool scholarship right there. Social signals encoded in twists of hair.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:16 PM on January 9, 2013 [4 favorites]


From a cursory Google search, it appears lead can be absorbed through the skin in some cases. Of course, from what I also understand, there was a great amount of lead poisoning going on in the Roman Empire, but how interesting to think that the lead vessels in which they concocted their hair color could have in some small way contributed to that phenomenon.
posted by PigAlien at 5:49 PM on January 9, 2013


Am I the only one here that now wants to go out and give someone a Seni Crines?

(that's a sentence I didn't imagine typing this morning)
posted by Red Loop at 5:57 PM on January 9, 2013


Clearly I should have chosen archeological hair dressing as a profession. I'm left to wonder what is under a medieval wimple, now.
posted by francesca too at 6:09 PM on January 9, 2013


The whole thing is utterly fascinating. Thanks for the post.
posted by mudpuppie at 6:30 PM on January 9, 2013


Damn, she knows her stuff - she touches on why there are two different hairstyles for the Empress Julia Domna, and speculates that the second one - rather than being a wig, as others have guessed - may have instead been a way to cover up hair loss.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't know I had any interest in this topic, and am delighted to have learned something about it. Thank you!

I too enjoyed this WAY more than I thought I would.
posted by sweetkid at 7:07 PM on January 9, 2013


1) I think that's the first YouTube video I've seen that included a bibliography.

2) I wonder what Ms. Pietra's tengwar tattoo says. (Hmm, perhaps "Ow, ow, MOM!")
posted by jiawen at 9:40 PM on January 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


If anyone is in Baltimore tonight and lacking in evening plans, she's speaking at the Walters Art Museum and it sounds great.
posted by jetlagaddict at 9:57 AM on January 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very interesting! I love forensic archaeology, so I smiled when the narration said "the commonly held belief was overturned by artifact evidence" — meaning "if you braid hair on a human head, there are only so many ways for it to go".

Hey, everybody, when you actually count the horse's teeth, you get a totally different number! *grin*
posted by Lexica at 2:55 PM on January 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


More Roman hairstyles in the news! This time, from a Roman mummy from Egypt.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:56 PM on January 27, 2013


This is totally awesome stuff. Kind of reminds me of the book Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Time and how they figured out that back when she had arms the Venus de Milo was spinning thread into yarn with a drop spindle by analyzing her posture and what was left of her arms. WW has a fair bit of hands-on figuring out how it was done and why going on if that's your thing. Highly recommended.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:56 PM on January 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


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