Mummy Ink


Researchers examining two mummies housed at the British Museum for over 100 years have discovered an unusual and well-kept secret: the world’s oldest known figurative tattoos (tattoos that are representations of forms seen in life such as animals)!

These 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies named the “Gebelein Man A” and “Gebelein woman” after the town where they were found in upper Egypt in 1900, had dark marks on their skin that were ignored until just recently when a conservationist decided to take a closer look with infrared imaging. The imaging revealed that the man had a wild bull and a Barbary sheep tattooed on his upper arm, and the woman had S-shaped lines across her shoulder and upper arm. This discovery proved that not only women received tattoos during this time period (as was previously thought), and although archaeologists don’t know exactly what the role of tattooing was, they think it was a sign of social status and possibly of knowledge or bravery. The scientists believe that these ancient Egyptians may have used soot as their pigment, which was poked under the skin with a needle to create the dark images.

Although the Otzi mummy found in the Alps is thought to be the oldest example of tattoos, his are comprised of simple geometric patterns and are believed to have been done for medicinal purposes. The use of tattoos as an art form, which depict images that most likely hold deep meaning and symbolism, is what makes these Egyptian mummies so unique. The man who uncovered these works of art, Daniel Antoine, wants to use this discovery to encourage other museums to use new technology on their older collections. After all, you never know what secrets might be hiding just below the surface.

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March 12, 2018

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