World's earliest figurative tattoos discovered on 5000-year-old ancient Egyptian mummies

World's oldest tattooed woman discovered in the British Museum's Ancient Egyptian mummy collection

World's oldest tattooed woman discovered in the British Museum's Ancient Egyptian mummy collection

The oldest tattoo in the world has been discovered on a couple of 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies, approximately 1,000 years older than the former oldest tattoos formerly discovered.

Meanwhile, linear and S-shaped motifs were found on the female mummy's upper arm and shoulder.

Until now, the earliest tattoos with geometric shapes (but not with animal or other representations) have been discovered in the alpine mummy known as the Egg of the Pagans and dating back to the fourth millennium BC, which is nearly contemporary with the tattoos of the Egyptian mummies.

Daniel Antoine, the British Museum's curator of physical anthropology, said the male mummy was "one of the most popular displays at the British Museum". "Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals", said Antoine, one of the lead researchers on the paper, the report revealed. Since being discovered, "Gebelein Man A" has been displayed in the Museum. "Both sets of tattoos would have been highly visible and may have denoted status, bravery, cult/magical knowledge or protection", said the British Museum.

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The male mummy, known as Gebelein Man A, who died from a stab wound, had dark smudges on his arm.

The female mummy has on her arm and on her shoulder four small S that are hard to interpret. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium'.

Researchers believe that the tattoos were created using some kind of soot and may have been worn as a symbol of power or strength. Until now it was thought that only women practiced tattooing in ancient Egyptian times. But recent infrared imaging revealed the outlines of two animals in the skin: a bull and a Barbary sheep.

The markings on these mummies are now the oldest evidence of figural tattoos on humans.

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They could be crooked staves or throw-sticks, batons or clappers used in ritual dance. To date, the oldest surviving examples are mainly geometric designs found on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi (3700-3100 BC).

The iceman was found well-preserved in the Italian Alps back in 1991, and would have lived around 5,300 years ago.

The tattooed lady is known as Gebelein Woman and was found in Northern Egypt near the modern city of Luxor.

The prominent position of the inkings show that they were meant to be highly visible, and contradict the earlier belief that tattooing in Egypt was only performed on women.

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