An archaeologist who followed a hunch has discovered the oldest figural tattoos in the world on the bodies of two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.
Infrared images of the mummies revealed tattoos of a wild bull (Bos primigenius) and a Barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) on the upper arm of a mummy nicknamed “Gebelein Man A.” The other mummy, a female known as “Gebelein Woman,” has linear and S-shaped tattoos on her upper arm and shoulder — markings that are the oldest tattoos ever found on a woman, the archaeologists said.
“Although we tend to think that prehistory (the time before writing) was primitive and rather plain, it is clear this was a sophisticated time and the people must have looked amazing,” lead study researcher Renée Friedman, the director of the Hierakonpolis Expedition, led by the University of Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum, in the United Kingdom, told Live Science in an email.
Friedman’s hunch came about after she and her colleagues discovered a Nubian cemetery at Hierakopolis in Upper Egypt dating to the early Middle Kingdom, or about 2000 B.C. The archaeologists found that three ancient women buried in the cemetery had extensive tattoos, especially on their abdomens. One woman’s tattoos were visible to the naked eye, and the tattoos of the other two were revealed with infrared photography