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Thanks to modern infrared technology, it’s now been revealed that ancient Egyptians sported tattoos as well, evidenced by illuminated ones found on several mummies.
According to a report made on November 22 at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research by archaeologist Anne Austin of the University of Missouri–St. Louis, infrared photography has recently helped identify the tattoos of seven mummified Egyptians from at least 3,000 years ago. At the moment, the identities of the individuals are unknown, although the site they are found in, called Deir el-Medina, are known to house artisans and craft workers who built and decorated royal tombs in the nearby Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens.
Up until the Deir el-Medina discoveries, there are only six mummified individuals who are known to have tattoos. However, the new discoveries both add to that number, as well as give a new perspective about tattooing in ancient Egyptian times.
“It’s quite magical to be working in an ancient tomb and suddenly see tattoos on a mummified person using infrared photography,” said Austin, who made the research while she was working with the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. The mummies were reportedly examined during the years 2016 and 2019.
Per the discoveries, only women appear to have the tattoos, challenging the idea that tattoos on women usually refer to their sexuality, or fertility as a woman. The tattoos on the Deir el-Medina mummies on the other hand, seem to refer to them being healers or priestesses.
There was also one woman who had 30 tattoos scattered all throughout her body, with the patterns on her arms not appearing on the other mummified bodies. Several of these also look like Egyptian hieroglyphics, suggesting that during her time, she may have served as a religious practitioner.
“Everything about the new tattoo discoveries is surprising because so little is known about this ancient Egyptian practice,” said Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.