Oldest 'tattoo art' discovered on ancient Egyptian mummies
Oldest 'tattoo art' discovered on ancient Egyptian mummies
It’s believed the inked lady’s tattoos served some mystical or religious purpose
03 March, 2018, 00:37
SCIENTISTS have discovered the world's oldest tattoos on the arm of a 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummy on display at the British Museum.
The tattoos, a wild bull, a Barbary sheep and an S-shaped motif, were found on two naturally mummified bodies at the British Museum in London, England.
The female mummy had S-shaped motifs on her fore-arm and shoulder - the earliest tattoos ever found on a female body. The bodies - dubbed "Gebelein Woman" and "Gebelin Man A" - were found buried in a shallow grave, and without any special treatments; the desert's dryness, salinity, and heat prevented the bodies from decaying, which is why they were found in such remarkably good condition.
The researchers believe that the tattoos would have denoted status, bravery and magical knowledge.
Radiocarbon results indicate that they lived between 3351 and 3017 BC, shortly before the region was unified by the first pharaoh at around 3100 BC.
Gebelein Man A, the male mummy is one of the best-preserved mummies.
Tattoos have been found on mummies dating back thousands of years.
Using infrared photography, the researchers identified a series of four small "S" shaped motifs running vertically across Gebelein Woman's right shoulder. "Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium", he told BBC News. "The designs are not superficial and have been applied to the dermis layer of the skin, the pigment was carbon-based, possibly some kind of soot", explained the British Museum, in its statement.
All the woman's tattoos were created to be seen and may have denoted status, marked her as part of a cult or been inked on her skin as some form of protection.
The find dates tattoos containing imagery rather than geometric patterns to 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
The markings on these mummies are now the oldest evidence of figural tattoos on humans. "It may represent a crooked stave, a symbol of power and status, or a throw-stick or batons and/or clappers used in ritual dance", explained the British Museum.
The record for the oldest tattoo is held by Ötzi the Iceman, but his tattoos were all geometric shapes. But recent infrared imaging revealed the outlines of two animals in the skin: a bull and a Barbary sheep.
The prominent position of the inkings show that they were meant to be highly visible, and contradict the earlier belief that tattooing in Egypt was only performed on women.
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