The Tattooed Priestesses of Hathor
07:28 AM
mummy tattoos.jpg
Whenever someone tells me that tattoos are a "trend," I tell them that it's probably the longest trend known to mankind. Generally, people who spout dumb tattoo cliches are not the type of people who subscribe to the Smithsonian. [If they did, they probably would have come across the many articles by anthropologist Lars Krutak on tattoos in antiquity.]

Ancient tattoos are the focus of this interesting piece published last weekend: The Tattooed Priestess of Hathor. Author Margaret Moose begins by discussing Hathor, whom she describes as "one of the most important gods in early Egypt," and the role women once held as priestesses. She then links the priestesses to the female mummies discovered in the late 19th century, who wore the tattoos only previously found in images on pottery, figurines and other arts.

What's particularly interesting is how she explores the way the tattoos were first interpreted upon discovery. She writes:

When the tattooed women were discovered most academics dismissed them as women of low status, probably prostitutes, 'dancing girls' or maybe royal concubines because the area where the bodies were found, Deir el-Bahari, was the site of royal and high status burials. The most famous of these tattooed mummies is Amunet, Priestess of the Goddess Hathor. The mummy of Amunet was discovered in 1891 by the French Egyptologist Eugène Grébaut and from all accounts the tattoos were seen as quite sensual, of course at this time curved table legs were also considered sensual so one must view their reaction in context to their Victorian mores. [...]
Amunet's tattoos were located on her superior pubic region covering the lower part of her abdomen, on her mid frontal torso and directly inferior to her right breast. She also has tattoos superior to her elbow joint and on her left shoulder as well as on her thighs. Most of these tattoos are in the form of dashes, and dots and some form concentric circles on her abdomen.
Moose then goes on to ask questions about the medicinal value of these tattoos, such as for acupressure and pain management. 

They're interesting questions, and ones that have been explored by Lars Krutak as noted earlier. For further reading, check this Smithsonian blog post featuring Lar's work, which asked the very question, "Can tattoos be medicinal?"

Whether artful or medical, the power of tattoos span millenia. So when you hear about "tattoo trends," throw some knowledge down about these priestesses.

[Thanks to Miss Mikki of Fortune Tattoo for the link!] 

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