Janet, the ‘hair archaeologist’

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Hairdresser Janet Stephens does extensive research on hairdos of the Roman era and recreates them

By day, Janet Stephens cuts and colours at a hair salon. By night, she is an amateur archaeologist, meticulously recreating hairstyles dating back to the times of Roman antiquity.

Stephens, 54, who has worked as a hairdresser for more than two decades, recreates updos from the Roman era at her home in Baltimore, near Washington, DC.

She combines her vocation as hairdresser with her love of archaeology, in the process revealing the secrets of how women wore their hair in ancient times.

Stephens styled the hair of one particular mannequin as it would have been worn by Empress Plotina around 110 AD, pointing out that the unique braided loops and coils signalled her exalted status.

What do hairstyles tell Roman women ?

Historians and archaeologists long believed that the elaborate hairdos of women of that era as depicted in marble sculpture were merely flights of artistic imagination that bore little relationship to the real styles of women at that time. But Stephens said the intricate updos were fairly faithful representations of how women of that social station actually wore their hair.

"The styles work," Stephens said. "When you know how to look at them, you see their logic," she said.

"You can see the braids starting at one spot and travelling to another spot and turning into something else," she told AFP.

Stephens' exhaustive research has helped her to develop a novel theory as to how some of the most elaborate hairstyles of the day came about.

Using needle and thread

She surmised that some of the elaborate and unwieldy dos were made using a needle and thread to keep them in place.

She guessed that slaves probably used a needle and thread to stitch together the elaborate hairstyles that could then stay in place for days.

Paper presentation

Stephens haunted museums, spent long hours in libraries, and even learnt German to continue her research, back up her theory and draft a paper in which to present her evidence.

The tell-tale clue provided evidence that the hairstyles of antiquity might indeed have been sewn into place. Stephens published her findings in the Journal of Roman Archaeology, making her one of the few non-academics to have written an article in the scholarly periodical.

She said that the fact that she was not a scholar allowed her to approach her research with an unjaundiced eye.

Stephens posted her meticulous recreations on YouTube.

She even uses historically accurate tools to recreate the elaborate hair designs.

Stephens said she does not pursue her hobby for profit, but has encouraged Hollywood producers seeking to make movie scenes set in ancient Rome to log onto YouTube to see how she does it.AFP



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