Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Tattoos found on ancient Egyptian mummies are oldest of their kind

World's oldest tattooed woman discovered in the British Museum's Ancient Egyptian mummy collection Mummies with the oldest tattoos
Mike Hodges | 03 March, 2018, 00:32

The world's earliest figural tattoos have been revealed on two natural mummies in the British Museum's collection.

Drawings of a Barbary sheep, wild bull and S-shaped motifs were spotted on the bodies that date between 3351 and 3017BC.

"The use of the latest scientific methods, including CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging, has transformed our understanding of the Gebelein mummies." says Daniel Antoine, from the British Museum.

A sign of status, magical power or just art? Strong animals with horns likely communicated strength and bravery. They were found in the southern part of Upper Egypt, about 40km from Luxor.

A series of four small "S" shapes, meanwhile, runs along the right shoulder of female mummy "Gebelein Woman", mimicking a pattern that appears on Predynastic pottery decorations.

She lived during the Predynastic period, an era before the first pharaoh united the nation in around 3100 BC. This makes it harder to determine the meanings behind the symbols, as all researchers have to go on is parallels with imagery found elsewhere.

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. "There's no reason why their reasoning for having a tattoo on their body wouldn't be as multifaceted as it is today".

Before this breakthrough, scientists thought that tattoos were worn exclusively by women during that time. The new discovery proves that it involved both sexes. 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. In 2012 the scientists had come to the conclusion that the man was murdered at the age of 18 to 21, stabbed from behind. Tufts of ginger-colored hair can still be seen on his scalp. But his sweet ink, appearing as dark smudges on his arm, remained unexamined. Take a look through the most extraordinary mummified remains found. At present the oldest surviving examples are the mainly geometric tattoos on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi (4th millennium BC) whose skin was preserved by the ice of the Tyrolean Alps.

Mr Antoine told The Times: "It is the earliest use of figurative tattoos". Also known as the Iceman, the well-preserved mummy of Otzi was found to have some 61 line tattoos.

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