Understanding the news: Oldest Egyptian pictorial tattoos identified,Pre-Dynastic period

Understanding the news: Oldest Egyptian pictorial tattoos identified, Pre-Dynastic period
UPDATE: Added British Museum blog link (includes more images of the tattoos) Clarified terms. With thanks to Rodford Smith
These two mummies come from before the 'age of Pharaohs' from what is known as the Pre-Dynastic period. They are preserved by being naturally dessicated (dried) by burial in sand. You will note they are also in a 'crouched' position. This is generally referred to as a contracted burial. A shallow hole was cleared in the sand, the body was placed in it, sometimes with burial goods and sand was pushed over the top. The dry sand then removed all the moisture from the body, significantly reducing the decay. Later the ancient Egyptians developed artificial means of preserving bodies.
The bodies in the study have been found to have tattoos on the arms, which have now had a preliminary identification. (See the article for black and white enhanced images to see the designs)
The male had animals but the female had a rather intriguing set of S shapes on her arm. I find this particularly interesting as I immediately recognised the motif as one that commonly occurs on pre-Dynastic pots which would have been roughly contemporary with the mummy. The pots don't usually feature the animals portrayed on the male mummy (Bull/sheep vs gazelles/flamingoes or ostriches) so perhaps its meaning and function is different.
Discovering the same design in a different context may help us to understand the iconography of these pots. "She also has a motif that is thought to represent batons used in ritual dance." These 'batons are seen being held by other figures and resemble the 'clappers' and ritual 'wands' that have been found in other contexts.
Since the decorated pots are thought to have a funerary function, perhaps the lady in question was a funerary dancer or professional mourner, but that is, as yet, unclear.
Tattoos are not unknown on other mummies, and an older one was found on a mummy of a man preserved in ice (Europe). In Egypt, dancers are often portrayed with designs thought to be tattoos on their legs. However this is the earliest example we currently have on human remains.


  1. That is great news to know the most oldest Tattoes in the world belongs to an ancient Egyptian 's mummy ,i am sooooo proud of them but my favourite Tatto was that two siting Baboones and two wedjet it was amazinghttps://lh3.googleusercontent.com/TvmkKpKSbTpM58Bk9TKFXWj-IT9bYethHbeubrIxYlR1LB0HAd2aYDAvN0s2oRY7NuLMPJ5L


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