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Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp

MorwenEdhelwen1 10 May 13 - 06:54 AM
Jack Campin 10 May 13 - 07:18 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 May 13 - 07:58 AM
mg 10 May 13 - 07:14 PM
Jack Campin 10 May 13 - 08:16 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 10 May 13 - 08:37 PM
JohnInKansas 11 May 13 - 06:06 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 11 May 13 - 07:36 AM
Acme 11 May 13 - 05:17 PM
Jack Campin 11 May 13 - 06:17 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 11 May 13 - 07:20 PM
MorwenEdhelwen1 11 May 13 - 10:46 PM
JohnInKansas 12 May 13 - 12:23 AM
Acme 12 May 13 - 12:32 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 12 May 13 - 02:29 AM
Megan L 12 May 13 - 03:19 AM
MorwenEdhelwen1 12 May 13 - 06:07 AM
Acme 12 May 13 - 12:48 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 May 13 - 02:06 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 May 13 - 02:29 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 12 May 13 - 04:18 PM
GUEST,Julia L 12 May 13 - 09:46 PM
Bat Goddess 12 May 13 - 10:11 PM
Acme 13 May 13 - 12:00 AM
Jack Campin 13 May 13 - 04:58 AM
GUEST,Eliza 13 May 13 - 05:07 AM
JohnInKansas 13 May 13 - 05:48 AM
Roger the Skiffler 13 May 13 - 06:11 AM
Roger the Skiffler 13 May 13 - 06:15 AM
Roger the Skiffler 13 May 13 - 06:16 AM
Roger the Skiffler 13 May 13 - 06:30 AM
Jack Campin 13 May 13 - 10:40 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 13 May 13 - 11:06 AM
GUEST,Julia L 13 May 13 - 08:46 PM
GUEST,Julia L 13 May 13 - 08:49 PM
JohnInKansas 13 May 13 - 10:20 PM
EBarnacle 14 May 13 - 12:03 PM
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Subject: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 May 13 - 06:54 AM

I've recently been reading The Saga Of Ragnar Lodbrok in translation online,due to my love of Norse myths and legends (they have awesome heroines, and I'm something of a feminist, as well as a fantasy writer)   and in the first part, there's something which struck me. When Ake and Gríma, the impoverished foster parents of the heroine Aslaug, find her hidden in the harp with a lot of money, Gríma plans to change Aslaug's name to Kraka, or "crow", shave off her hair and rub tar in her scalp in order to prevent the hair from growing and pass her off as the pair's biological daughter.

Does tar in the scalp really prevent hair from growing, or was that just invented by the storyteller?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 May 13 - 07:18 AM

A coating of tar would effectively cover up stubble as the hair grew out and make it look like she had some awful skin disease.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 May 13 - 07:58 AM

@Jack: So it wouldn't actually prevent the hair from growing?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: mg
Date: 10 May 13 - 07:14 PM

but there is tar shampoo which is supposed to be good for scalp ailments.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Jack Campin
Date: 10 May 13 - 08:16 PM

The ailment it's most used for is psoriasis:

http://psoriasis.about.com/lw/Health-Medicine/Conditions-and-diseases/Coal-Tar-as-a-Psoriasis-Treatment.htm

http://www.papaa.org/psoriasis-treatments/coal-tar

No it doesn't stop your hair growing.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 10 May 13 - 08:37 PM

@mg: That turned up in my searches.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 11 May 13 - 06:06 AM

References to "tar" in old tales can sometimes be ambiguous.

Studies of artifacts frequently report that the Norse "tarred their boats" and generally imply that the tar refered to what often is called "bitumen-tar" or "coal tar," although the reports in popular media don't often get to the details.

In many parts of the world there are naturally exposed petro-tar sources. For the common uses of "tar" it wouldn't make much difference to the users which of these two was handy, although for chemical or medical uses there might have been differences that even early cultures could have noticed.

In some places, generally overlapping places where "road tar" (the first two above) was used, there was also much use of "pine-tar" (essentially rosin?). Many Native American peoples "tarred their boats" with sticky tree sap (sometimes apparently quite elegantly refined), with results about as good as for the others, although the boats were mostly smaller than in other cultures.

There is evidence that most cultures that used one or more of the "tars" believed that they had "medicinal properties" although little is known in most cases about the precise nature of the beliefs.

In cultures where more than one of the kinds was used, for "tales around the campfire" that we now call "legends" it probably could be assumed that contemporaries would know which kind was intended when the generic "tar" was used, and would know the uses assumed for each. Being not fully versed in the cultures that originated the stories, the term is ambiguous to us now.

It could be hazardous to assume that the "tar" in a particular tale was the one most commonly used by the culture that created the story, if one might be writing an archaeological/anthropological paper, since many cultures have used more than one kind of "tar" for different purposes, but it probably doesn't matter much for "passing on a folk legend."

I haven't heard of a "tradition" claiming that "tar" would prevent hair from growing, although has been mentioned, it might conceal new growth; and with a thick enough coating, stripping off the tar the put a new coat on might have been about as effective as a "bikini wax."

In the mid to late 1940s it was "Old Injun Lore" that washing the hair and scalp with kerosene (coal oil?) would promote hair growth. AND IT WORKED TOO.

In factories where there's lots of machining, stamping, etc, the air is saturated with cutting oils and preservative oils, and workers walk around with a surface layer of these cruds quite routinely. Clean kerosene is miscible with nearly all these oils, so it very effectively washes them off the skin/scalp, and clean kerosene, although it stinks a bit, will evaporate quite cleanly in a short time. A clean scalp is more likely to sprout the replacements for the old hair that inevitably falls out.

I can confirm that my dad got the instructions from an authentic "Old Injun" as I met the guy several times. I can also confirm that the treatment apparently worked, since my dad made me give him a couple of haircuts just so he could tell me all the things I did wrong. (He was a professional barber several times, when there wasn't much else to do.) I was a bit puzzled by what kind of refineries "Old Injuns" used to get their clean, narrow cut, kerosene and how they built thier filtration systems to get the crap out of it, but it can't be denied that the short-term results appeared to be just as they (at least he) described.

(Since the prescribed treatment apparently only worked for people making airplanes, there might be an additional historical puzzle to resolve.)

John


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 May 13 - 07:36 AM

Since Ragnars saga Lodbrokar is Norse, it's probably bitumen tar.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Acme
Date: 11 May 13 - 05:17 PM

I was going to paste bits of the Wikipedia entry for "tar," but it's all pretty interesting. "In Northern Europe, the word "tar" refers primarily to a substance that is derived from the wood and roots of pine."

Tar.

I'll stick with this one little extraction from the page:

Wood tar is also available diluted as tar water, which has numerous uses:

    As a flavoring for candies (e.g. Terva Leijona) and alcohol (Terva Viina)
    As a spice for food, like meat
    As a scent for saunas. Tar water is mixed into water which is turned into steam in the sauna
    As an anti-dandruff agent in shampoo
    As a component of cosmetics


SRS


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Jack Campin
Date: 11 May 13 - 06:17 PM

There is no bitumen in any of the Norse countries, nor was coal tar made in the Middle Ages.

Pine tar it has to be.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 May 13 - 07:20 PM

@SRS: That's interesting.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 11 May 13 - 10:46 PM

And: @Jack: Oh, crap. How could I not know that?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 12 May 13 - 12:23 AM

But weren't the Norse pretty well known for "importing" stuff from other places?

(Not intended as a really serious question, unless someone sees a way that it fits in here. I have no idea whether their "range of influence" in the time of the saga would have included places to get "exotic" materials.)

John


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Acme
Date: 12 May 13 - 12:32 AM

A coating of tar on the head of a young person - such an unnatural thing to leave on the head. Do you suppose it was like someone already suggested, the sugar hair removers or hot wax of today? Poor kid, to have hair follicles ripped out of the head. Ouch!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 May 13 - 02:29 AM

@SRS: Her hair grew back later :)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Megan L
Date: 12 May 13 - 03:19 AM

good article on pine tar Pine tar


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: MorwenEdhelwen1
Date: 12 May 13 - 06:07 AM

@John: Ragnar and Aslaug are supposed to have lived in the early 9th century, so no (the Viking raids were just beginning then, IIRC- I haven't seriously studied this subject yet).


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Acme
Date: 12 May 13 - 12:48 PM

Pine tar is widely used as a veterinary care product. It is a traditional antiseptic and hoof care product for horses and cattle. Pine tar has been used when chickens start pecking the low hen. Applying a smear of pine tar on the wound gives the attacking hens something else to do. They are distracted by the effort of trying to get the sticky pine tar off their beaks.

Nothing to do with tar to hide hair, but what an interesting tidbit into the mental processes of chickens. :)

SRS


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 May 13 - 02:06 PM

The bitumen of Pechelbronn, Alsace, is in northern Europe. This was where the famous company, Slumberger, got its start. The deposits were produced until about 1970.

The substance was found because it exudes to the surface. The deposit was exploited commercially in 1735. It was taken out in buckets from shafts.
I don't know if it was known in Viking times.
NY Times, Feb 23, 1880.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 May 13 - 02:29 PM

Writings from ca. 1620 describe large bitumen deposits near Neufchatel, France. I haven't found anything about their early use, but its use in the Middle east would have been known in the Middle Ages in Europe.

Bitumen was on sale by Venetian traders.

We know little about its use in Northern Europe, but, because of its widespread use in the Middle East from biblical times onward, from Persia to the Mediterranean region, it would have been known to traders throughout Europe.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 12 May 13 - 04:18 PM

Mentioned above, the distillation of pitch from pine and birch in Europe is known from 8000-10000 years BP.
Francesco Benozzo, The Mesolithic Distillation of Pitch.....,
www.continuitas.org/texts/benozzo_distillation.pdf

Bitumen-coated artifacts date to 40,000 years ago in the Syrian area. It was used in prehistoric Persia, and was used in ancient Rome.

Use of bitumen beyond Italy in pre-history seems to be unknown.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: GUEST,Julia L
Date: 12 May 13 - 09:46 PM

Pine tar in the hair deters head lice. Presumably that is why sailors tarred their hair, also perhaps as a form of mousse to keep it out of their eyes.British sailors wore their hair long in a queue (sp)which they would tar, hence the name Jack Tar. I heard a story of a British sailor who was not amused when his tarred braid froze and broke off when going 'round the Horn. American sailors wore their hair short as in a "crew cut".

Happy hairdressing
Julia


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Bat Goddess
Date: 12 May 13 - 10:11 PM

Hmm...I'll have to look up my sources but, it seems to me, that Lawrence Durrell in one of his Mediterranean travel books (I think "Bitter Lemons" about Cyprus) said that a mixture of goat dung and ground up roofing tiles would put hair back on a bald man's head.

I don't think he said anything about pine tar....

Linn


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Acme
Date: 13 May 13 - 12:00 AM

These links are mostly for Linn, to satisfy the inner archeologist: Dead Sea asphalt deposits are famous. And might have been migratory to a point.

http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/revce.1993.9.3-4/revce.1993.9.3-4.365/revce.1993.9.3-4.365.xml

I can't say that Dead Sea asphalt or tar-like products moved that far, but it is also not a good idea to dismiss materials travelling such a distance. Time seems to reveal a lot of things we today think couldn't/wouldn't happen centuries ago that were regular occurrences.

SRS


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Jack Campin
Date: 13 May 13 - 04:58 AM

Bitumen's main use in the ancient Middle East was as a building mortar. For that purpose, it wasn't very transportable - its value was too low and its mass was too great.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: GUEST,Eliza
Date: 13 May 13 - 05:07 AM

I've a feeling that many types of tar are carcinogenic. Best to verify the safety of the application of tar to the skin before doing it.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 May 13 - 05:48 AM

Almost any "heavy" mineral oil product has been found to be carcinogenic, although the proofs for refined light oils aren't too persuasive unless there are common additives present. The heavier stuff, like greases and tars, quite probably should not be applied to body parts repeatedly or left for long periods. The greatest danger is, of course, for "habitual exposures" repeated over long periods of time.

The warnings are quite similar to the reports that "any animal product (meat) blackened by fire is carcinogenic," which suggests that the "health-food-niks" who still barbecue in the backyard in common ways are probably missing something in the instruction manual.

There is less information on the "pine tars" or other vegetable renderings or distillates. Pine tar has been used, as noted, in veterinary concoctions for a very long time, and there have been few claims of cancers caused by or related to them. That might be partly because horses don't live long enough for many cancers to advance enough to be recognized for what they are. The common use of the "hoss liniment out in the barn" for human ailments/injuries suggests reasonable safety, but there's been little publicity on any studies that may have been done, at least as far as I've noticed.

John


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 13 May 13 - 06:11 AM

I suspect many UK people my age remember the Durbac (?) "coal-tar soap" that was used to wash our hair in the years after the second world war to stave off nits!

Rts


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 13 May 13 - 06:15 AM

Ah, I see it's spelled "Dirbac":
SEE HERE

RtS


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 13 May 13 - 06:16 AM

...er, rather "Dirbac".

(Proof-read,Roger, proof-read!)

RtS


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Roger the Skiffler
Date: 13 May 13 - 06:30 AM

(screams!) DERBAC!

RtS

(I'll get me nit-comb)


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Jack Campin
Date: 13 May 13 - 10:40 AM

I used Wright's Coal Tar Soap until they changed the formula to take the real tar out.

The nearest thing I've found is a kind of carbolic soap made in Trinidad that somebody sells in Brixton Market in London.

I've never seen a pine tar soap, does it exist?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 13 May 13 - 11:06 AM

In Neolithic Switzerland, bitumen was used to fasten axe heads to handles. The book speculates that the bitumen came from Neufchatel or Perte de Rhone. Sir John Lubbock, Prehistoric Times.....

In Mesopotamia, tars distilled from trees were used as glues and as linings for porous ceramics, as noted above, in prehistory. References available on the internet.

Viking use was not found in the references I located on the net.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: GUEST,Julia L
Date: 13 May 13 - 08:46 PM

Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap.. I believe the Vermont Country Store carries it. Used to be a staple at my grandmother's house

All you pirates would love it to smell authentic while staying clean...
J


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: GUEST,Julia L
Date: 13 May 13 - 08:49 PM

Well, lookee lookee! did a search and came up with this
http://www.grandpabrands.com/categories/grandpas-pine-tar/

seems it's also sold at CVS- who knew?

J


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 13 May 13 - 10:20 PM

The use of bitumen to fix axe heads is interesting, but not at all unexpected.

By contrast, many of the Native American tribes and their ancestors appear to have made use of the same technologically advanced "glue" that held all the wooden parts together in WWI and early WWII airplanes -

Chicken Blood. (or for the natives, other appropriate "bird juice.")

Old timers have said that the "technological progress" when they finally learned to freeze dry it wasn't too spectacular, but "it really made the shops smell better!"

They did consider the casein glues stronger, but they came along only at about the time most of the wood assembly began to be phased out in favor of rivets, and of course that was from an udder source.

John


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Subject: RE: Folklore: Tar rubbed in the scalp
From: EBarnacle
Date: 14 May 13 - 12:03 PM

Don't knock pine tar. As one who has worked on traditional boats, I have pine tarred spars in lieu of varnishing them. The mixture I used was various combinations of pine tar and mineral spirits to sink into the wood and act as a waterproofing and preservative.

My hands really liked the exposure also.


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