Monday, November 29, 2010

"Shall I Pee on your Hair Now?" Going Blonde and Other Ancient Gross Facts

Sometimes, I like to pretend the ancient world fascinates me because I'm intellectually curious. The truth? I like learning about things that make me laugh or that gross me out. Yes, I have the emotional maturity of an 11-year old boy.

So, in the spirit of celebrating my true nature, let's get to the fun stuff! Here are some disgusting...I mean, interesting facts I've come across about the ancient world:

*  Women dyed their hair in ancient times, with red or blonde the most popular choices in Rome. For the latter, "beauticians" mixed pigeon poop with ashes and slathered it all over the hair. Then they either pee-ed directly on the hair or dunked the head in a pot of urine. Why? The ammonia from human urine acted as a bleach, stripping the hair of it's natural color. It appears that in ancient times, if women couldn't achieve that sun-kissed look, they settled for a pee-bath!

* One Egyptologist believes that workmen building the pyramids bonded with/domesticated wild dogs by regurgitating food for puppies being weaned, just like doggie mothers did in the wild. The proof? Three artifacts dating from the Old Kingdom have been uncovered showing mouth to muzzle contact between human and dog. (To be fair, the art could be just showing the human and dog greeting each other with a nose kiss, but this particular Egyptologist decided to go for the grosser interpretation. As a result, this person is my hero.)  

* Ancient Greeks and Romans cooked almost all their food in a sauce called garum.  The Romans made garum by throwing fish intestines and other fish guts into a giant vat and leaving it in the sun to putrefy. Salt and other spices may have been added. This liquifying, putrefying stew of fish goo was used to flavor just about everything the Romans ate.

* Ancient Romans did not use toilet paper to wipe their bottoms. They used either leaves or, worse, their left hand (which was why the left hand never touched food at a Roman dinner). In public latrines, Romans used sea sponges affixed to long twigs to clean themselves. If they were nice, they rinsed the sponge afterward. (For some reason, I feel the unnatural urge to rush into my bathroom and hug a roll of toilet paper!).

More to come.  Meanwhile, do you have any gross facts to share? I would love to hear them.

PS: Irene Hahn reminded me that ROMAN MYSTERIES writer Caroline Lawrence also has a ton of interesting gross details to share. Check out her latest brilliant post on Roman poo and pee:


Narukami said...

While not "dedicated to the gross" you might find Professor J.C. McKowen's book, A Cabinet Of Roman Curiosities to be of particular interest.

He has chapters on many topics to include:
Religion & Superstition
Food & Drink
Not For The Puritanical

Just one minor gem:
Public toilets had a social function quite alien to modern life. Martial teases an acquaintance for sitting around there all day in the hope of cadging an invitation to dinner. (Epigrams II.77) p190

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

Oh GADS!!! I need a shower now... Uck! {8-P e

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

David, I love that book--I had forgotten about it. Time to pull it out to see what other goodies I can scrounge up. Thanks for commenting.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

I know, e.--it's gross but that's what I love about this stuff!

Trisha said...

LOVE IT! This post is just so perfect for what I've been reading and for my 11-year-old mentality (aren't we two peas in a pod?)

Unknown said...

Very interesting Vicky! Did you ever catch that show from the UK "The Worst Jobs in History" - it was all about stuff like this. You can catch most of it on YTube, here's a clip

Caroline Lawrence just did a talk at the British Museum/blog post on Roman toilet habits which seems to fit this theme too


Cathy C. Hall said...

EWWWWWW! But TOTALLY fascinating! Well, of course they had to pee on their hair, but aren't you wondering how the first person figured that one out? (Hmmmm...maybe if I peed on hair the color would take? Hey! Little Xerxina, get in here. Mommy needs you to sit right there for just a minute ;-)

Gabriele Campbell said...

Cathy, urine has been used to bleach hides since the Neolithic age, so I bet someone made the connection long ago.

What I find intriguing is that the Roman ladies wanted to imitate a look associated with people they considered inferior and barbarian. Imagine southern belles wanting to have really curly black hair. ;)

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Trisha, the 11 yr old mentality explains why I love your blog too!

Hasan, what I would've given to have heard Caroline Lawrence's talk at the British Museum! Also the clip sounds like Vicki Leon's book, Working IX to V.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Cathy, little Xerxina? You crack me up.

Gabriele, your observation that urine as a bleach was known in Neolithic times is important to remember. I am also curious why blond and red were favored colors in Rome. I thought I read somewhere that--at some point--only prostitutes could wear blond wigs. Do you know anything more about that?

Bearded Lady said...

Remind me never to have lunch with you. :) The two of us could go back and forth trying to gross each other out.

I love the beauty concoctions. The blonde hair dye is a classic. Another Ancient Green beauty routine - gall, blood, and liver of sea fish to remove body hair.

Thank god for razors.

Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

oh my gosh! the left hand thing is realllly gross. is that why that's still somewhat of a custom? EWW!

Honestly, the pee is probably not as awful as what we put on our hair now to dye it!! LOL

Gail said...

Oh gag! Yeah, it's fascinating but now I get a little shiver going to the salon to get my hair colored. Hmmm.... wonder how they'd handle getting highlights???