Photo credit of Otzi: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/EURAC/Samadelli/Staschitz).
Very exciting news on the tattoo history front: the oldest tattoos known to date do, indeed, belong to "Otzi the Iceman," whose frozen mummified body, with a total of 61 tattoos, was found accidentally, in 1991, by two hikers in the Otztal Alps along the Austrian-Italian border. It is estimated that Otzi died between about 3370 and 3100 BC, and so many deemed him to be the OG of tattooed mummies; however, there was debate among tattoo scholars that Otzi may not have been, and instead, the title could belong to an unidentified South American Chinchorro mummy who was found with a tattooed "mustache." There were a number of questions surrounding the identify and age of that mummy, and so to put the debate to rest, scholars Aaron Deter-Wolf, Lars Krutak, Benoit Robitaille, and Sebastien Galliot collaborated to uncover the identity of the Chinchorro specimen. And they did. But they didn't just stop there. They also compiled a reference list of tattooed mummies from across the globe, demonstrating that Otzi wears the oldest tattoos identified to date.
Their findings were recently published online in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, and can be downloaded here.
Lead author Aaron Deter-Wolf also wrote about their research for Redorbit. Here's a bit from that article:
Before officially declaring Otzi to be the oldest tattooed individual, we double checked our data by compiling a list of tattooed human mummies from around the globe. This catalog included at least 49 sites spanning the period between around 3370 BC and AD 1600, and spread throughout the American Arctic, Siberia, Mongolia, western China, Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines, and Greenland in addition to Europe and South America. Some of these finds, such as the Princess of Ukok, the men and women from Burials 2 and 5 at the Pazyryk burial ground, and the woman from Grave 50 at 3-J-23, et-Tereif, Sudan have been well-publicized outside of academia. Others are mentioned simply in passing in early archaeological reports, or appear only in regional and hard-to access journals. A number of sites include multiple tattooed individuals, sometimes numbering in the dozens. In all we were able to identify eleven tattooed mummies greater than 4,000 years old (about 2000 BC). In addition to Ötzi and the Chinchorro man these include seven individuals from Egypt, and two from Russia. To date, Otzi is the oldest of these finds.As noted in the journal, while Otzi is the oldest of the finds, it is unlikely that he's the first tattooed person on earth. The report explains:
[...] Otzi's 61 marks represent physical actions performed on his body as part of established social or therapeutic practices that almost certainly existed within his culture well before his birth. While other lines of archeological evidence hint that permanent body marking may extend significantly earlier into human history [...] conclusive proof of the antiquity of tattooing has yet to be uncovered. We anticipate that future research including new archeological finds, reanalysis of existing collections, advanced dating techniques, and the application of new imaging technologies in the study of mummified human remains will provide additional data through which to further evaluate this ancient and global practice, and likely provide direct evidence of tattooing antedating 3200 BC.
I highly recommend reading the report. In addition to their findings and tattooed mummy table, there are some great links and references to further reading.
Credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Eurac/Samadelli/Staschitz.
One of the biggest recent tattoo news stories was about an ancient man and a new discovery about his tattoos. In the excellent report, "Scan finds new tattoos on 5300-year-old Iceman," Aaron Deter-Wolf discusses how a new examination of Otzi the Iceman found a previously unrecorded group of tattoos consisting of "four parallel lines between 20 and 25 mm long and are invisible to the naked eye," which researchers have added to complete the catalog of all of Otzi's tattoos. As Aaron notes, "While the different combinations of lines in Otzi's tattoos may have held some underlying symbolic meaning, it appears that their function was primarily medicinal or therapeutic." Further to this, he discusses Dr. Lars Krutak's writings on Otzi:
In his 2012 book Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification, anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak documents an experiment in which Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen determined that hand-poked tattoos applied to acupuncture points using a bone needle "could produce a sustained therapeutic effect," successfully relieving ailments such as rheumatism, tinnitus, and headaches. [...]Read Aaron's article here.
For more on tattoo history, there's a piece recently published, entitled "The Last Tattooed Women of Kobane," which explores the stories behind photojournalist Jodi Hilton's portraits of women from Kobane, Syria, (shown above) and their regional facial tattoos called "deq." It's a fascinating Q&A. Here's a taste:
Many women reported being tattooed by a "nomad" or a "gypsy woman," and these traveling tattoo artists may well have dispersed the tradition. But some of the designs are unique, possibly referring to pre-Islamic religions that are, in some way, still in the hearts of some Kurdish people.See more of Jodi's portraits and read her story here.
I found it fitting, on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, to share the story of Auschwitz survivor Elie Buzyn and his reflections on the prison number tattoo he received at the hands of the Nazis 70 years ago. He told EuroNews:
"To me, this number was my parents' grave stone. You do not walk around with your grandparents' or parents' grave stone on your back to show 'look, I had my father, my mother, they died here, here is the stone!' For me, symbolically, that's what it was. "And so I decided to take it off, to take it off, but only if I could keep it."Cosmopolitan mag posted on a beautiful, tear-inducing video (below) featuring Freedom Tattoo, a program in Poland that helps women who were once incarcerated cover their prison tattoos with more artful ones. As one women says, after replacing her crude handpoked work with beautiful roses, "I am a woman. Now I can take another step, and this is fantastic because now I don't have to be locked up anymore in that gray world that held me back." The video made me cry, but I highly recommend taking a look as a reminder at how wonderfully transformative tattoos can be.
Image via the British Museum.
An "intimate tattoo" found on a 1,300 year-old mummy is one of the highlights of the British Museum's "Ancient lives new discoveries" -- an exhibit that unlocks "hidden secrets to build up a picture" of the lives of eight people from ancient Egypt and Sudan, whose preserved bodies were analyzed, using methods such as CAT scans, to put the pieces together of who they were. The exhibit runs from May 22 to November 30, 2014, but if you can't make it to London, there are a number of outlets online, which offer some juicy details on that tattoo. Turns out it's more pious than sexy.
According to The Telegraph, one of the eight mummies, who was found in 2005 on an archeological dig in Sudan, had, on her right inner thigh, a tattoo with a monogram of a name spelled in Ancient Greek. Here's more from the article:
One of the mummies, whose remains were found just seven years ago, was so well preserved that archaeologists could almost make out the tattoo on her skin on the inner thigh of her right leg with the naked eye. Infra-red technology helped define it more clearly.
There's also an interesting short video on The Telegraph that further discusses the tattooed mummy, and the others in the exhibit. Check it.
The Mirror also had a piece on the mummy, which I found on the wonderful Tattoo History Daily. The editor of the blog, Anna Felicity Friedman, also posted the article on her personal Facebook page, and there's an excellent discussion in the comments, including links to further information on tattooed mummies, such as Gemma Angel's articles (Part I and Part II) on tattooing in ancient Egypt.
As I often say, whenever you hear people talk about a "tattoo trend," remind them that it's one of the oldest "trends" of mankind.