Tattoos on Mummys Point to Early Acupuncture
01:00 PM
mummy tattoos.jpg
Image from the Journal of Archeological Science.

USA Today's science blog posted an article yesterday entitled "Mummy tattoos hint at ancient Andean acupuncture." In it, they talk about the discovery of a 1,000-year-old female mummy in Southern Peru who wore two distinct types of tattoos (shown in the illustration above). A study of this mummy was published in the recent issue of the Journal of Archeological Science, which highlighted that "it was the first time that two different kinds of tattooing materials were found in one and the same mummy."

Researchers believe some of the tattoos were therapeutic:  "The tattoos on the neck region could have had a therapeutic, ritual or protective intention. A possible therapeutic origin may lie in the fact that the circles on the neck lie close to acupuncture points, having a relaxing and pain-relieving effect in the neck and head region."

The other tattoos, which included animals like apes and reptiles as well as symbols and rings tattooed on her hands, were ornamental (common in prehistoric mummies found across the globe). USA Today offers more on mummies' decorative tattoos:

The oldest known tattoos date from 6000 B.C. from the Chinchorros culture. They show a thin pencil mustache tattooed on the upper lip of a male adult. One of the most impressive sets of decorative tattoos was found on the skin of a Skythian nomad prince from the Altai mountain (500 B.C.). Aesthetically designed pictures of mythical creatures were tattooed on his arms, shoulders, chest, back and the right leg. But not only men were tattooed in ancient times: an obviously upper class female mummy was excavated in the Altay. She was enveloped in silk, crowned with a half-meter-high headdress and had a Skythian- pattern tattoo on her left arm. During excavations in a tomb of the Menthuhotep-temple in Deir el Bahari, figures, fish, birds, and what appeared to be landscapes, at about 1000 B.C.

So the next time you hear someone call tattooing a "trend," you can tell them it's one of the longest trends in history.

And next time someone tells you tattoos are unfeminine remind them that in ancient Egypt tattooing appears to have been purely a female thing.

I always find this kind of research and discovery so fascinating. Not just because it is gives more ammo to my "Tattooing Is Cool Because It's Been Going On For A Zillion Years" file (gotta come up with a shorter name for that thing), but because it shows that ancient culture believed that the purpose of tattooing wasn't solely artistic ornamentation of one's body. I love the fact that they believed that it was a healing practice, a sacred talisman or something that transformed or empowered the wearer.

I had heard about this a finding like this on a frozen body (I want to say in Italy some years back?) of a warrior that dated back a whole mess of years (yes, that's the accurate dating used). He had markings/tattoos in some areas believed to alleviate arthritic conditions and some to provide strength/mythic power in others.

Neat stuff!!! Tattoo geeks unite!!!

@Justin - you're thinking of Oetzi of the Alps - http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2009/07/17/iceman-tattoos.html

i love your comment at the end. it clearly needs to be on my Tshirt

i wasnt being snarky.
i think "So the next time you hear someone call tattooing a "trend," you can tell them it's one of the longest trends in history. "
is a bitchin' quote

At Grosz, Hells yes! Thanks!

And at peeD3, that DOES need to be a shirt... Marissa, you should use that shit! LOL


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