Revealing Masks


In human images from ancient Egypt attention was centered, first and foremost, on the face. The face of any representation of a person contained important information about identity. Among the most common of facial portraits was the mummy mask on a dead body. Such masks were not intended as portraits as much as idealized images to serve the deceased in the afterlife. These ideal images of faces often encode complex information about status and, not surprisingly, gender. Color (often pink or reddish brown for male but a light color for female), shape, indications of facial hair, gender-specific jewelry such as earrings, hairstyles, and headdresses are all clues to gender identity. When such signs of gender are absent from Egyptian faces, we must consider whether they have been lost or were never originally present.

Go to images of artifacts.