'Oldest tattoo' found on 5000-year-old Egyptian mummies

03 March, 2018, 00:34 | Author: Bertha Harmon
  • World's oldest tattooed woman discovered in the British Museum's Ancient Egyptian mummy collection

A new study of two 5,000-year-old mummies claims to have found proof of the world's oldest figurative tattoos.

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.

Entitled: Natural mummies from Predynastic Egypt reveal the world's earliest figural tattoos.

Daniel Antoine, one of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum's Curator of Physical Anthropology, said that the discovery had "transformed" our understanding of how people lived in this era.

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Gebelein man was aged between 18 and 21 when he was stabbed in the back and killed.

The practice of tattooing appears to be 1,000 years older than anyone knew.

Considering the location of both sets of tattoos, they may have been meant to denote status, bravery, cult/magical knowledge or protection.

Antoine points out that the mummies - who, according to radiocarbon dating, lived between 3351 and 3017 BC - were from the period before Egyptian hieroglyphs came into use.

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The male mummy is one of the best preserved in the world and exposed for almost 100 years since it was discovered.

"Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium", he said. "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.

In comparison, the marks of Gebelein Woman are harder to understand. But recent infrared imaging revealed the outlines of two animals in the skin: a bull and a Barbary sheep. The researchers unearthed both mummies in Gebelein, located in the southern part of Upper Egypt. The linear motif on her right arm bears a striking resemblance to objects seen in painted ceramics of the same period, in which individuals hold onto objects while engaging in ceremonial activities. "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. Ötzi, whose remarkably well-preserved remains were found in the 1990s in the Tyrolean Alps of Europe, had vertical and horizontal markings rather than the fancy renderings found on the Egyptian mummies.

The oldest example of tattoos are on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi, who was thought to have lived between 3370 and 3100 BC, nearly contemporary with the Gebelein pair.

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