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. [...]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!]
Photos via Siberian Times.
A number of you passed along this Daily Mail article entitled: "The astonishing 2,500 year old tattoos of a Siberian princess, and how they reveal little has changed in the way we decorate our bodies." Considering the nature of the tabloid [one reader called it "Daily Fail"], the real meaty info of the news is buried at the end in favor of quoting a scientist at the onset discussing how Greeks make fun of British tourists' tattoos. They do, but the scientist had more to say.
So I hit up the original article quoted by The Mail, which was in The Siberian Times and it is packed with much more interesting information.
The Siberian Princess is also called the Pazyryk Mummy because she and the other bodies found with her are believed to be from the nomadic Pazyryk tribe. She's also known as the Altai Princess & Ukok Princess as she was found in the Ukok Plateau of the Altai Mountains near the border of Mongolia.
The "princess" was discovered in 1993 by Dr. Natalia Polosmak, the archeologist quoted in the articles, and largely kept at a scientific institute in Novosibirsk, preserved by the same scientists who who preserve the body of Lenin.
It's making headlines now because she'll be coming home to Altai and will soon be displayed in a glass sarcophagus in a mausoleum at the Republican National Museum in the capital Gorno-Altaisk.
Believed to be a 25-year-old healer, storyteller or shaman, the mummified woman was buried among others, including two tattooed men who also had intricate tattoos. Dr. Polosmak offers more on their markings:
Compared to all tattoos found by archeologists around the world, those on the mummies of the Pazyryk people are the most complicated, and the most beautiful. More ancient tattoos have been found, like the Ice Man found in the Alps - but he only had lines, not the perfect and highly artistic images one can see on the bodies of the Pazyryks.
For more on the Pazyryk mummies and additional photos, I highly recommend clicking The Siberian Times article. And if you want even more, check these articles on other tattooed mummies.
And Lars Krutak's texts for The Vanishing Tattoo (like this one).
"Reconstruction of a warrior's tattoos, who was discovered on the same plateau as the 'Princess'. All drawings of tattoos, here and below, were made by Elena Shumakova, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science."