Oldest tattoo discovered on ancient Egyptian mummy

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

A 5000-year-old Egyptian mummy has become the oldest tattooed woman in the world after scientists found odd motifs inked on her shoulders and arms.

A tattoo of a bull on the upper part of the male mummy's arm was discovered, while four "S" shapes were discovered on the female's right shoulder, beside a fifth tattoo in the same area.

And infrared photography has now revealed that the smudges were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals well known in Predynastic Egyptian art.

"Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals", said Antoine in a statement.

The Gebelein man has been on display since his discovery 100 years ago and is one of the museum's most popular attractions.

There is evidence of tattooing on mummies found in the Taklamakan Desert in China dating from 1,200 BC.

Probably, the man wore his tattoos to help demonstrate their strength and courage, say Museum staff, because these animals in ancient Egypt were regarded as symbols of male power, virility, fertility and creation.

The male mummy, known as "Gebelein Man A" has been on display in the British Museum nearly continuously since his discovery around 100 years ago.

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Previous CT scans showed that the male was between the age of 18 and 21 when he died, and that he was killed by a stab wound to the back. "Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium", he told BBC News.

Researchers at the British Museum have also found the earliest figurative tattoos which depict figures rather than abtract patterns.

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

"We think the curved line represents a stave - a crooked stave that's often depicted in ceremonial scenes and it maybe represents a special status but also they're often depicting ritual scenes". To date, the oldest surviving examples are mainly geometric designs found on the Alpine mummy known as Ötzi (3700-3100 BC).

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.

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

Ötzi, who lived around 5,200 years ago, would have done lots of walking im the Alps and it is thought the tattoos may have been a kind of acupuncture to ease joint pains.

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