Last Update 15:5
Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Tattoos discovered on Egyptian mummies after millennia under wraps

Reuters , Friday 2 Mar 2018
The world's oldest figurative tattoos have been discovered on two Egyptian mummies by researchers at the British Museum in London (Photo: Trustees of the British Museum)
Views: 3095
Views: 3095

Researchers have discovered the oldest figurative tattoos in the world on the upper arms of two ancient Egyptian mummies, the British Museum said on Thursday.

A male mummy was found to have tattoos depicting a wild bull and a Barbary sheep on its upper arm, while a female has linear and S-shaped motifs on its upper arm and shoulder.

The artworks appeared as dark smudges in natural light but researchers at the British Museum and Oxford University's Faculty of Oriental Studies found the tattoos in 2017 with infrared photography.

"It's actually providing completely new insights into the use of tattooing," Daniel Antoine, curator of physical anthropology at the British Museum, told Reuters.

"The location of these tattoos suggests they were designed to be highly visible on the upper arm and the shoulder," he said, adding that the discoveries push back by 1,000 years evidence for tattooing in Africa.

The mummies were unearthed 100 years ago in the Egyptian town of Gebelein, around 40 km (24 miles) south of modern-day Luxor. They date to 3351 to 3017 BC, which is the Predynatic period before Egypt was unified by the first Pharaoh.

Researchers said the female tattoos may have denoted status, bravery or magical knowledge, while the male's were likely symbols of virility and strength.

Prior to the discovery, archaeologists believed tattooing in Egypt was only performed on women, as tattoos were only depicted on female figurines of the period.

The oldest surviving tattoos are geometric designs on a mummified corpse known as Otzi, who lived around 5,300 years ago and was discovered preserved in the Italian Alps in 1991.

The research, lead by Antoine and Oxford University's Renee Friedman, was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on March 1. 

Short link:


Ahram Online welcomes readers' comments on all issues covered by the site, along with any criticisms and/or corrections. Readers are asked to limit their feedback to a maximum of 1000 characters (roughly 200 words). All comments/criticisms will, however, be subject to the following code
  • We will not publish comments which contain rude or abusive language, libelous statements, slander and personal attacks against any person/s.
  • We will not publish comments which contain racist remarks or any kind of racial or religious incitement against any group of people, in Egypt or outside it.
  • We welcome criticism of our reports and articles but we will not publish personal attacks, slander or fabrications directed against our reporters and contributing writers.
  • We reserve the right to correct, when at all possible, obvious errors in spelling and grammar. However, due to time and staffing constraints such corrections will not be made across the board or on a regular basis.

© 2010 Ahram Online.