Possibly oldest tattoo found on Egyptian mummy

Researchers claim to have found possibly oldest figurative tattoos in the world on two 5000-year-old mummies found in Gebelein in the southern part of Upper Egypt.

Male mummy with a tattoo on arm (by The Trustees of the British Museum)

The individuals were buried in shallow graves without any special preparation, but their bodies were naturally preserved by the heat, salinity and aridity of the desert. 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. The oldest example of tattooing is found on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi who is thought to have lived between 3370 and 3100 BC. But his tattoos are vertical or horizontal lines, rather than figurative. The discovery pushes back evidence for the practice in Africa by 1000 years.

Tattoo of a bull with long tail and horns and a sheep above it (by The Trustees of the British Museum)

Previous CT scans of the male mummy showed that the individual was between 18 and 21 years old when he died from a stab wound to the back. Dark smudges on his arm were thought to be unimportant until infrared scans revealed that they were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals. One is interpreted to be a wild bull with a long tail and elaborate horns. The other appears to be a Barbary sheep with curving horns and a humped shoulder. The female mummy has four small S-shaped motifs running down her right shoulder. She also has a motif that is thought to represent batons used in ritual dance. The designs are under the skin and the pigment is probably soot.

Four S-shaped tattoos on the shoulder of female mummy (by The Trustees of the British Museum)

(after The Trustees of the British Museum & BBC News)

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