Ancient Egypt Ink: Some Of The Oldest Tattoos In History

Tattoos may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but they have been part of many cultures for thousands of years. But how old are tattoos? At least 5,000-year-old as new tests on Ancient Egyptian mummies have shown.

It was well known that the practice of tattooing human bodies was not exactly a recent development in human culture but now we know that the first tattoos were a lot older than we first thought.


The National Geographic has recently reported on a new analysis that has found that two mummies have tattoos.

The two mummies in question were found back in 1900 among other four mummies near the Egyptian town of Gebelien, along the river Niles. That is why they are known as the Gebelien mummies.

Both mummies and the rest of their group are housed in the British Museum in London, England.

The analysis that discovered the tattoos was carried out as part of a project with the goal of reexamining artifacts of value in the possession of the museum. Interestingly, one of the mummy is male while the other one is female.


How Old Are These Mummies?

British Museum specialists believe that these two tattooed mummies are from between the years 3352 BCE and 3017 BCE. Before this discovery, it was believed that ancient Egyptians only began to tattoo themselves millennia later.

So, this discovery is now one of the earliest examples of tattooing of which specialists are aware.

There is in fact only evidence of an older tattoo than that. The oldest tattoo has been found in the so-called √Ėtzi, the Iceman. His remains were discovered back in 1991 in the Alps at the border between Italy and Austria.

You have to think hard with a tattoo. ‘What will I love for the rest of my life?’ – Kate Upton

√Ėtzi dates back to around the year 3370 BCE, so that is the earliest evidence of tattoos that we have. But, after the discovery of the tattoos on those two Gebelien mummies, the gap has been shortened considerably.


What Do The Mummies’ Tattoos Represent?

According to the findings of this reexamination published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the tattoos found on these two Ancient Egyptian mummies represent images.

Their tattoos are not geographical figures or anything like that. Instead, they seem to represent actual images from the real world.

Of course, the tattoos have not been preserved untouched for thousands and thousands of years. In 2018, what is left of them is nothing much than a smudge.

But thanks to infrared imaging, specialists can see what the markings that went by unidentified for so long more clearly than ever before.

It seems clear enough that the tattoos are images from the real world. Scientists believed that the tattoos on the male mummy specifically represent a Barbary sheep and a wild bull.

Despite the use of the same infrared technology, the tattoos on the female mummy could not be seen quite as clearly as those on her male counterpart. The scientists doing the reexamination have been able to identify different symbols on her body that might give us an idea of what images they are supposed to represent.

They have been able to see four symbols who look like the letter ‚ÄúS‚ÄĚ on the female body‚Äôs top shoulder joint, and a symbol that looks roughly like the letter ‚ÄúL‚ÄĚ on her abdomen area. For these two symbols, scientists surmise that what is represented could very well be a wooden staff or a stave.

How Did There Two Ancient Egyptians Get Inked?

There are many things that make this discovery so exciting. One of them is that both men and women had tattoos. Before this discovery, it was firmly believed, or at least assumed that only women from that period got tattooed. There was evidence that in what is known as the predynastic period of ancient Egypt (between 4000 BCE and 3100 BCE) women got tattoos. This was solely based on some figurines that had been found and which depicted female figures with tattoos.

It is important to note that this is the first time that actual tattoos have been found on actual people who lived in that period of history in that part of Africa. Before this discovery, all archeologists had found were representations of human figures wearing tattoos.

It is also very significant that this shows that not only women got tattoos.

Scientists suspect that there must be a symbolism in these specific tattoos, but they cannot be sure about what that is yet.

According to curator Daniel Antoine of the British Museum, representations of sheep were widely used in that period of ancient Egypt’s history, but it is not known what the significance of sheep is. As far as the bull, its significance is understood to have something to do with male virility and the status associated with it.

As far as the female mummy’s tattoos, scientists have not been able to shed any light as to their possible symbolism and its meaning.

The tattoos on these two mummies were inked into the thicker part of their skin (the dermis) and the ink used was made from soot. It is believed that copper instruments were routinely used for the purpose of tattooing human bodies. This idea comes from the fact that some such tools have been found in the region where the mummies were found.

Scientists know that the male mummy was a man of about 20 years of age when he died. They have identified a stab as the cause of death from the damaged to his ribs.

If nothing else, this new discovery sheds some light on the visual language on this period of ancient Egypt’s historical period.



List Of Human Body Parts Names

The human body collectively is the most complex machine known to man, Like any machine, the human body is made […]

Italy’s Space Science Data Center Hones MATISSE Program To Create 3D Projections Of Minor Bodies

The recent space missions devoted to the exploration of the so-called ‚Äúminor bodies‚ÄĚ (i.e., comets, asteroids, and dwarf planets), comprising […]

Estimations To Improve Landslide Predictions

The risk associated with rainfall-induced landslides in loose pyroclastic soils ‚ÄĒ which is widely spread across the world, especially in […]

A Right To The World?

From hundreds of thousands of Rohingya seeking shelter in Bangladesh to Australia‚Äôs brutal offshore detention of people whose arrival it […]

Transboundary Water Cooperation And The Sustainable Development Goals

Think about what you drank today. Odds are, you drank water at some point. For most of us, particularly in […]

Zooming In On Mechanobiology

Look through a biology textbook and what do you see? Lots of molecules. Whether they involve drugs or DNA, discussions […]

Evaluating Structural Morphology And Scale Inhibition Of Starch-Graft-Poly(Acrylic Acid)

Scale deposition mainly includes insoluble salts of calcium and magnesium, such as CaCO3, Ca3(PO4)2, CaSO4, MgCO3, and Mg(OH)2. Scaling phenomenon […]

Science Trends is a popular source of science news and education around the world. We cover everything from solar power cell technology to climate change to cancer research. We help hundreds of thousands of people every month learn about the world we live in and the latest scientific breakthroughs. Want to know more?