Just how early ancient peoples were inking their bodies has been changed to an earlier date than originally believed after 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies were discovered to have tattoos on their skin.
The tattoos were found on male and female 'Gebelein' mummies.
The 5,000-year-old male mummy, which is naturally preserved, has been one of the star displays at the British Museum, visited by millions each year, since its discovery in a cemetery over 100 years ago.
Previous research revealed that the man, known as Gebelein Man A, died a violent death between the ages of around 18 to 21, from a stab wound to his back.
But dark smudges on his arm, which appeared as faint markings under natural light, have now been examined.
Infrared technology has now revealed that the smudges were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals well known in Predynastic Egyptian art.
The male mummy is one of the most popular displays at the British Museum. It's believed his remains were preserved naturally perhaps because he was buried in the peak of summer or was in a shallow grave.
It's believed that the tattoo was created with some type of needle made from bone or copper. These tattoos push back evidence of tattooing by 1,000 years. It is likely the man wore the designs as symbolic displays of his strength and virility. Throughout much of the ancient world, both bulls and goats were associated with male power.
More abstract s-shaped motifs were also identified on the upper arm and shoulder of a mysterious female mummy, who may have been a person of importance.
The designs are under the skin and the pigment is probably soot. They could be crooked staves or throw-sticks, batons or clappers used in ritual dance.
The oldest known tattoos in the world were discovered on Ötzi the Iceman, dating from around the same time, but they are purely geometric.
'It is quite a departure to see people putting images on their body and that will have resonance with people today,' the curator said.
'Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.'
Previously, archaeologists had thought only women wore tattoos in ancient history.
The new discovery shows that such body modifications were practiced on both sexes.
The tattoos may have denoted status, bravery and magical knowledge.
Both mummies were found in Gebelein in the southern part of Upper Egypt, close to Luxor.
They lived between 3351 and 3017 BC, not long before the region was unified by the first pharaoh in 3100 BC.
Source - Daily Mail
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