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ICYMI Tattoo hiStories: Tattooed Mummies Anyone?

ICYMI Tattoo hiStories: Tattooed Mummies Anyone?

February 10, 2020   |   By The Eikon Team


tattooed mummies
Photo Credit: ©Archaeologist Anne Austin of the University of Missouri, St. Louis

ICYMI - Two recently discovered Egyptian mummies indicate that people were getting tattoos as early as 5,000 years ago. In December 2019, Smithsonian Magazine published an article about the remains of a mummy of a woman, that was uncovered in 2014 by researchers with the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology. The research team was on an excavation expedition at the historical site Deir el-Medina on the west bank of Luxor. They believe the woman probably lived between 1300 and 1070 B.C. The mummy had more than 23 different tattoos over various parts of its body. Some symbols were so well-preserved that researchers were able to clearly identify them. Six additional mummies found on the Deir el-Medina excavation were also found to have tattoos.

New Technology Uncovers New Discoveries on Old Finds

The British Museum had two mummies in its collection for over 100 years, but only recently discovered they were tattooed. The mummies were found in Gebelein in the southern part of Upper Egypt, about 40km south of modern-day Luxor. In 2018 scientists uncovered the mummies' ancient body art using CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging. Their tattoos are to date, the oldest known examples of figural tattoos. The designs were identified as a wild bull and a Barbary sheep on the upper-arm of the male mummy, and S-shaped motifs on the upper-arm and shoulder of the female.

The Most Ancient Tattoos Belong to Ötzi


Tattooed Mummies
General areas of tattoos on Ötzi. © South Tyrol Museum of Archeology /EURAC/ Samadelli/Staschitz.

So far, the oldest tattoos found on a body, belong to Ötzi the Iceman, a caveman dating back to about 3370 B.C. Ötzi's frozen, mummified corpse was discovered in 1991, by two Germans hiking in the Alps near the mountain border between Austria and Italy. Ötzi's tattoos are considered to be geometric, rather than figurative. The designs on his body are vertical or horizontal lines, not drawings.

If you're ever in Italy, you can check out Ötzi's body art in person at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy where he's been on display since 1998.

Stay Tuned...

These tattooed mummies are only the latest finds. Indirect archaeological evidence like statues with carved designs, and ancient murals depicting tattooed people, suggests that tattooing may actually be even older and more widespread than the mummies lead us to believe.

The Eikon Team

About the Author

Eikon Device was started in 1994, working out of a small garage, manufacturing the first needle specifically designed to meet the needs of tattoo artists. That started an odyssey of research and development that has seen many advancements in tattoo equipment including four generations of Eikon meter/power supplies, the Tru-Spring Armature Bar system, Griffin Tubes, Hydra Needles, and Symbeos, Helix and Green Monster Machines.
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