How did Native Americans shave?

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Junghalli
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How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Junghalli » 2008-12-26 07:45pm

Just something weird I was wondering about. In pictures of Native Americans from the nineteenth century, they're usually clean-shaven. And I'm fairly sure when the Spaniards first met the Aztecs, the Aztecs were generally clean shaven. I also know the Aztecs didn't have much in the way of metalworking, so they probably weren't making razors.

So, how did they shave? Did they use a sharp stone tool or something?

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Pablo Sanchez » 2008-12-26 07:50pm

Native Americans, like most other ethnic groups originally deriving from East Asia, simply do not grow very much hair on their faces or bodies.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Junghalli » 2008-12-26 07:58pm

Pablo Sanchez wrote:Native Americans, like most other ethnic groups originally deriving from East Asia, simply do not grow very much hair on their faces or bodies.
I'd heard that from a couple of people that the answer was they just didn't grow beards, but according to this and a couple of other sites I found that's a myth.

http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/me ... ipics.html

My history prof said they'd pluck them out. I guess if their facial hair grew slowly, that could work.

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Pablo Sanchez » 2008-12-26 08:24pm

Junghalli wrote:I'd heard that from a couple of people that the answer was they just didn't grow beards, but according to this and a couple of other sites I found that's a myth.
In fact Native Americans, like East Asians, can grow facial hair (notice I said "not very much" instead of "none") but it's going to be sparse. Somebody with a few wispy patches of facial hair might well have appeared beardless to a contemporary European observer.
My history prof said they'd pluck them out. I guess if their facial hair grew slowly, that could work.
Or singe them off. But given that you already got an answer from a history professor I'm wondering why you asked the board.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Junghalli » 2008-12-26 08:34pm

Pablo Sanchez wrote:But given that you already got an answer from a history professor I'm wondering why you asked the board.
I had a hard time envisioning somebody tweezing out all the hair on their face every day or couple of days. Plus I wanted to see if there was any truth to the story that they just didn't get beards.

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Akhlut » 2008-12-26 10:10pm

I can't for the life of me remember where I read it, but I do recall reading that Native Americans plucked their beards because, to some tribes at least, they didn't want to look like dogs.

Also, when I was in college, there was a nearby reservation and a lot of Native Americans going to college, and they could grow beards, but they were usually fairly thin and wispy affairs.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Broomstick » 2008-12-27 08:04am

Junghalli wrote:
Pablo Sanchez wrote:But given that you already got an answer from a history professor I'm wondering why you asked the board.
I had a hard time envisioning somebody tweezing out all the hair on their face every day or couple of days. Plus I wanted to see if there was any truth to the story that they just didn't get beards.
Why not? Many Caucasian women spend rather remarkable amounts of time doing just that (white folk being quite hairy compared to the rest of the world, some of us more than others) in order to obey cultural norms that say women are not to have chin bristles, fuzz between nose and upper lip, or thick eyebrows (not to mention de-hairing the rest of the body).

Native American men do have facial hair, but as noted it is relatively sparse may grow more slowly than in some other ethnic groups. That means less hair to pluck. And plucking was certainly an option along with the mentioned singing of hair. Pluck hair often enough and eventually it will stop growing back.

Beyond that, a properly knapped piece of flint is razor sharp and could be used for shaving. Obsidian, being volcanic glass, can also have a suitable edge. These would take some practice, of course, but that was true of the European straight razor as well. Nations that had metal-working capabilities might have been able to produce metal blades that, while weak compared to European standards, may well have been up to the job.

As also noted, they didn't just shave their faces, a lot of them also shaved their scalps in various styles, including the "mohawk", the name of which is derived from a Native American tribe and style.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by LadyTevar » 2008-12-27 10:27am

Junghalli wrote:
Pablo Sanchez wrote:But given that you already got an answer from a history professor I'm wondering why you asked the board.
I had a hard time envisioning somebody tweezing out all the hair on their face every day or couple of days. Plus I wanted to see if there was any truth to the story that they just didn't get beards.
Considering that modern women often tweeze their eyebrows daily? It's not that hard a stretch, really.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Zor » 2008-12-27 01:40pm

If i recall correctly, tribes in the Amazon Basin using piranha teeth for razors.

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Edi » 2008-12-27 02:38pm

Broomstick wrote:Pluck hair often enough and eventually it will stop growing back.
I'm about as hairy as they come, and the hair on my chin doesn't grow as thick as it used to anymore due to this, because I had a chronic infection there for a long time and needed to pluck the area clean regularly to allow the thing to heal.

So yeah, plucking is probably what they did. Especially since it takes a long while for a plucked hair to grow back, much longer than if they shaved.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by frogcurry » 2009-01-13 07:47pm

They could easily have used stone tools, such as flint, like my hairy European ancestors did. They had the knowledge to make them, and they're not too difficult to use.

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by speaker-to-trolls » 2009-01-14 03:10am

A book I have by a renaissance priest who was trying to convert the Maya says that the Maya used to press hot stones to their chins and cheeks in adolescence, in order to stop facial hair from ever growing. He notes that since the spaniards took over they stopped doing this and therefore the ones who hadn't done it started to grow facial hair.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Sea Skimmer » 2009-01-14 03:09pm

You can shave pretty closely by just rubbing with using a pumice stone. It’s harsh on the skin but effective as long as you do it ever day. This was the main means of shaving in Europe until the invention of steel razor blades in the 18th century, I’d imagine the native American knew about it too. Bronze razors existed from the early days of bronze working, but they were a high end luxury item. Course most people just grew a beard.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Jeremy » 2009-01-20 11:53pm

It was Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia that opined to a Frenchman that Native American's plucked for appearance.

The question arises, why don't they have body hair? Traveling over an arctic land bridge and previously living in Siberia, one would think increased body hair a good adaption.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Bilbo » 2009-01-21 12:09am

Jeremy wrote:It was Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia that opined to a Frenchman that Native American's plucked for appearance.

The question arises, why don't they have body hair? Traveling over an arctic land bridge and previously living in Siberia, one would think increased body hair a good adaption.
Take a look at pictures of people traveling to the north or south poles. American or European explorers always look very rough with beards that often have snow and ice catching in the facial hair. Now look at the average eskimoe. They are bare-faced which means nowhere for snow to collect and potentially cause frostbite.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by folti78 » 2009-01-21 09:42am

Bilbo wrote:Take a look at pictures of people traveling to the north or south poles. American or European explorers always look very rough with beards that often have snow and ice catching in the facial hair. Now look at the average eskimoe. They are bare-faced which means nowhere for snow to collect and potentially cause frostbite.
<nitpick>
IIRC that ice on explorer beards is water vapour aggregated from their breath. With a full beard you don't even need snow, only a few hours (minutes?) of hard work to get a Mr Iceface look.
</nitpick>

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Akkleptos » 2009-01-23 09:33pm

Junghalli wrote:Just something weird I was wondering about. In pictures of Native Americans from the nineteenth century, they're usually clean-shaven. And I'm fairly sure when the Spaniards first met the Aztecs, the Aztecs were generally clean shaven.
19th century romantic depictions of aborigines -whom the artist usually had never actually seen- are renowned ofr their lack of accuracy, as exemplified in this book.
Junghalli wrote:I also know the Aztecs didn't have much in the way of metalworking, so they probably weren't making razors.

So, how did they shave? Did they use a sharp stone tool or something?
Native Americans could have used obsidian knives for shaving. Especially peoples in Mesoamerica, such as Mayans, Teotihuacans, Toltecs and Aztecs. Obsidian, because of its very nature, can be made into extremely sharp tools.
Wiki wrote:Obsidian, called itztli in the Nahuatl language, has been found at nearly every Mesoamerican archaeological site. Items made from this material had both utilitarian and ritual use. In many areas, it was available to all households regardless of socio-economic status, and was used in hunting, agriculture, food preparation, and for many other daily activities. Morphologically, obsidian was worked into a variety of tool forms, including knives, lance and projectile points, prismatic blades, general bifacial tools, and utilized flakes. Blades have been found in situ with rabbit, rodent, and mollusk remains, indicating their use in butchery. The practical use of obsidian is obvious considering that the material can be used to make some of the sharpest edges on earth. When skillfully worked, the edges of prismatic blade made from obsidian can reach the molecular level (i.e., the material has a cutting edge that is only one molecule thick).
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Junghalli wrote:I'd heard that from a couple of people that the answer was they just didn't grow beards, but according to this and a couple of other sites I found that's a myth.
In fact Native Americans, like East Asians, can grow facial hair (notice I said "not very much" instead of "none") but it's going to be sparse. Somebody with a few wispy patches of facial hair might well have appeared beardless to a contemporary European observer.
Well, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of the Conquistadores who came with Cortés, distinctly describes Aztec Emperor Montezuma as being a bearded man, for instance, in his very important work The Truthful History of the Conquest of New Spain.

EDIT (by myself): meesed-up quotes :P
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Pablo Sanchez » 2009-01-24 12:22am

Akkleptos wrote:Well, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, one of the Conquistadores who came with Cortés, distinctly describes Aztec Emperor Montezuma as being a bearded man, for instance, in his very important work The Truthful History of the Conquest of New Spain.
It so happens that I was wrong about something. I guess the lesson is don't always believe what you're told.

I fixed your double post as well.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Akkleptos » 2009-01-24 01:31am

Pablo Sánchez wrote:I fixed your double post as well.
Thanks a lot! I clicked something by mistake... :oops:

This is the actual quote form an English language version of the Truthful History... Montezuma is described as having "very little beard", but a beard nonetheless. Even nowadays, Mexican "Indians" (that's what they like to be called and I'm not one to tell them what they should call themselves) still sport thin -goatie-like- beards and moustaches (thick only above both ends of the lips).

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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Posner » 2009-02-01 10:05pm

Well the Aztecs had obsidian, which is sharper than steel. I wouldn't want to shave with it though. But it seems like the thread is on the right track- natives to the western hemisphere didn't have much in the way of facial hair, and what was there could be removed fairly easily through plucking etc.
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Akkleptos » 2009-02-02 01:47am

Posner wrote:But it seems like the thread is on the right track- natives to the western hemisphere didn't have much in the way of facial hair, and what was there could be removed fairly easily through plucking etc.
If shaving were a must, and given no other options, I'd take the obsidian edged tool with warm water and whatever foamy stuff I could find over plucking.

Akkleptos: *hums merrily while shaving*
Posner: *plucks*"Ouch!... Yikes!... Awww, fuck this!"
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Posner » 2009-02-02 05:20am

Akkleptos wrote:
Posner wrote:But it seems like the thread is on the right track- natives to the western hemisphere didn't have much in the way of facial hair, and what was there could be removed fairly easily through plucking etc.
If shaving were a must, and given no other options, I'd take the obsidian edged tool with warm water and whatever foamy stuff I could find over plucking.

Akkleptos: *hums merrily while shaving*
Posner: *plucks*"Ouch!... Yikes!... Awww, fuck this!"
Yeah, on the bright side cuts wouldn't hurt nearly as much because obsidian is so sharp
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Re: How did Native Americans shave?

Post by Akkleptos » 2009-02-02 10:15pm

Posner wrote:Yeah, on the bright side cuts wouldn't hurt nearly as much because obsidian is so sharp
True, true. You would have to be very careful with the obsidian edge, just as you would with an old fashioned barber knife (perhaps a bit more). The best possible option would be not to shave at all, maybe. We would be Amerindians, we would look cool with our wispy goaties 8)
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