An Egyptian-inspired Adventure in Harbor Springs
By Kristi Kates | Oct. 14, 2017
Every October, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, just north of Harbor Springs, hosts the Headlands Challenge, a one-mile walk by candlelight through the dark woods. The destination: The park’s event center, where program director and star lore historian, Mary Stewart Adams, leads seasonal storytelling under autumnal skies.
The 2017 Headlands Challenge runs from 8pm to 10pm on Saturday, Oct. 21, to coincide with the Orionid Meteor shower, a celestial event that also inspired this year’s storytelling component.
“Orion is the mighty hunter to the Greeks, and winter maker to the Native Americans — but for the ancient Egyptians, he was related to Osiris, Egyptian god of the dead,” Adams said. “So we'll have storytelling of the season and the stars, featuring spooky tales on topics like mummies and the curses of the kings.”
With the meteor shower visible overhead (provided the sky isn’t cloudy), and telescopes available for public viewing, guests are encouraged to add to the ambiance by arriving in Egyptian costume.
Before and after the Headlands Challenge, take advantage of the two other to-dos making up the area’s Triple Fright Night festivities: Go trick-or-treating at Mackinaw City’s Heritage Village (6–8pm), and visit the McGulpin Lighthouse (also at the Headlands; open 9am–11pm), which will be specially “haunted” for the evening.
All events are free; lighthouse entry is by donation. For more information, visit midarkskypark.org or call (231) 348-1713
The Origins of Gorgeous
Nefertiti. Hatshepsut. Sobekneferu. Cleopatra. While you might think of these women as ancient Egyptians — and you’d be correct — they were also style icons of their time.
But it wasn’t just about the ladies; men in ancient Egypt wore makeup, too. The culture as a whole maximized the use of facial embellishments — aka makeup — and left behind an intriguing legacy of beauty ideals, some of which stick with us today. In honor of our Too Beautiful issue (and, OK, an upcoming autumn holiday where you can make yourself up to be anyone you please) the Northern Express delves into one of the world’s earliest beauty routines.
The best makeup application, as modern beauties know, starts with a clean face, and the ancient Egyptians followed that same plan.
Each morning all Egyptians washed their face, hands, and feet (many Egyptians walked barefoot), repeating that ritual at night and often before and after meals as well. Their soap was called swabu, a paste made of scented clay or ash, rinsed from water poured in wooden or clay basins; most ancient Egyptians didn’t have full-sized tubs as we know them today.
And some Egyptians were just fine using the nearby river as a bathtub.
Even their teeth were properly cared for; one Egyptian toothpaste recipe included rock salt, pepper, mint, and dried flowers. It was applied with a frayed stick, and fresh breath was assured throughout the day with “breath mints” — a mix of pine seeds, melon, cinnamon, cashews, and honey that was heated over a fire, cooled, and broken into small candies.
After washing up, creams were worked into the skin with brushes. The creams were made from a wide variety of ingredients that were thought to prevent wrinkling and keep the skin smooth, including papyrus oil, ground-up flowers, honey, and animal fats; certain plants were also thought to function as insect repellent.
Flowers were also important components in another daily ritual highly valued by ancient Egyptians — the application of scents and perfumes.
Flowers like roses, lilies, and iris were most often used in combination with woods like sandalwood, plus a myriad of additional ingredients utilized to negate sweat odor and surround the Egyptians with fragrance.
The most popular perfume was caleld kyphi, an extremely strong, sweet, overwhelming scent that blended pine resin, mastic, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, juniper, mint, frankincense, myrrh, and sometimes other spices. But not all Egyptians could afford this complex concoction; many of the ingredients were rare in Egypt and were imported from Pwenet, or “Punt,” another ancient kingdom that often traded with the Egyptians.
Smelling good was said to put the Egyptians in better favor with the gods; those who smelled bad were the equivalent of the unpopular kids in class.
Next up was the hair — but not as you might expect. The hairstyling of Ancient Egyptians is an intriguing subject with many layers of preparation; one exhibit in Grand Rapids offers a closer look.
“For thousands of years, ancient Egyptian culture has inspired great fascination,” said Andrea Melvin, curator at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. “Central to our current exhibition, Egypt: Be Curious, is the mummy of a young woman named Nakhte-Bastet-Iru, dating back as far as 946 B.C.E.”
Nakhte-Bastet-Iru’s coffin shows a painted image of her on its exterior. A recreated clay model nearby shows how she might have looked and is indicative of the style at the time: thickly-outlined eyebrows and lush, braided hair, which might have been a wig.
While some Egyptians tinted their natural hair with henna, most — both male and female — shaved their heads to avoid lice. When they wanted the look of hair, they wore elaborate woven wigs made of both human and horse hair. (Wigs were also thought to be more comfortable in the dry climate.)
Ancient Egyptians had different styles of wigs for different occasions: elaborate ones for celebrations or festivals, and plainer ones for the usual daily family gatherings.
The wealthy had the best wigs, which could also include embellishments like gemstones; the “common folk” might weave a wig from papyrus plants, or just wear a fabric head-wrap instead.
THE EYES HAVE IT
To start their makeup routine, royalty or upper-class Egyptians would often first pale their skin with powders, as lighter skin meant they were spending leisurely time indoors as opposed to their lower-class counterparts, whose skin was darkened by working in the fields.
Dried red ochre (derived from clay) was applied to Egyptian cheeks and lips to add color, and henna was used to dye nails, but it was the cosmetics applied to Egyptian eyes that gave them perhaps their most distinctive facial feature, and the one that today best represents the “Egyptian look.”
A term you might be familiar with is kohl, the thick black eyeliner that Egyptians used to draw an almond shape around their eyes. In ancient times, kohl was made by grinding galena — a blue-black metallic-looking mineral consisting of lead sulfide — and green malachite into a powder and mixing them with nut oil to make a thick cream.
Kohl was another cosmetic that was expensive and usually only available to the rich; the peasants made their own version, but researchers have yet to determine what they used. Either way, the black around the eyes helped reduce the damaging effects of sun glare — and the ancient Egyptians believed that the power of their cosmetics was magical and would help protect them and ward off illness.
Today’s kohl isn’t really kohl; real kohl has never been FDA-approved for cosmetics, because it contains lead, so when you buy a kohl eyeliner, the name is only referring to the color.
All of these practices and rituals were particularly interesting as the ancient Egyptian culture is thought to be one of the first to place such a high focus on visual appearance. But their cosmetics, wigs, salves, and scents go even deeper than that.
“The ancient Egyptian’s view of life after death was similar in many ways to life before death,” said Melvin. “Death was the point of entry into renewed life, where the deceased continued to live forever in his or her tomb.”
Central to this was the process of mummification. “This was done in order to keep the body as intact and recognizable for the ba and ka, a life force that resided in the body,” Melvin said. These ancient Egyptian burial traditions were a central part of their culture and lasted for well over 3,000 years. Along with other highly-valued objects, cosmetics and cosmetic cases have been found in tombs.
“This indicates just how important cosmetics were to Egyptian culture and religion,” Melvin said.
Road-trip Like an Egyptian
Visit a little slice of ancient Egypt at one of these downstate destinations:
Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) African Arts Collection
5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit, (313) 833-7900
Located conveniently right in midtown Detroit, the DIA’s Egyptian Collection includes detailed manuscripts, striking jewelry, a wide variety of familiar objects from daily life, mummies, and well-preserved tomb wall fragments, all covering 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian civilization.
Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan
434 S. State St., Ann Arbor, (734) 764-9304
In addition to their other permanent exhibitions, the Kelsey also displays Egyptian statuary, jewelry, and a brightly-painted coffin. It also hosts temporary exhibits that often feature Egyptian art, such as the recent Death Dogs, which explored the history of Egyptian jackal gods like Anubis.
“Egypt: Be Curious” at the Grand Rapids Public Museum
272 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, (616) 929-1700
The Grand Rapids Egyptian exhibition highlights the importance of Egyptian artistic objects, which include statuettes, masks, and jewelry, as well as the exhibit’s main attraction, the mummy Nakhte-Bastet-Iru, alongside a clay reconstruction of how she might have looked centuries ago.