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The Most Ancient Tattoos Ever Found

Image: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

American archaeologists have found mysterious tattoos on the body of an Egyptian mummy. The skin of the ancient cadaver contains more than 30 tattoos. Thanks to carbon analysis, the scientist discovered that the tattoos were made more than 3 millennia ago.

Scientists from Stanford University announced their find at the annual archaeologists conference last month in Munich, Germany. They believe they've uncovered the oldest tattoos to be found so far.

The mummy is of a woman and was unearthed on the outskirts of the Egyptian settlement of Deir el-Medina. It is located right at the beginning of the famous Valley of the Kings. Initially archaeologists did not consider the importance of their find but upon detailed inspection of the body of the woman, they found, to their surprise, that her entire back, shoulders and neck were covered with tattoos. A discovery of this kind has never been found so far.

No matter what angle you choose to look at this woman from, you will always find a pairs of eyes of the gods gazing right at you. Applying these tattoos must've taken a very long time and part of the procedure was quite painful.

"The fact that this woman subjected herself to such torture tells us that she and those around her believed in the divine power of these tattoos, " explains Anne Austin from Stanford University, who also led the team that carried out the excavations.

Scientists estimate that the lady was buried in 1300 BC. The mummy was studied in detail using a scanner. Evidently, every part of her body was decorated with picture tattoos. Her shoulders have pictures of a stylized lotus. On her arms, the tattoos depict cows, which in ancient times were believed to be the holy animals of the goddess of beauty Hathor. The mummy's legs show stylize baboons.

Mummy Hand

The rest of the woman's body is covered in drawings of eyes - the so-called "Wadjet" or Eye of Horus. These sorts of symbols, placed on amulets and other jewelry, were thought to be powerful talismans that protected their wearers from curses, diseases and other ills.

According to the researchers, application of each and every tattoo was accompanied by horrifying pain. But they have not taken it upon themselves to guess what their purpose was, as this find is the first of its kind. They initially believed the woman was a priestess of Hathor.

But the Eyes of Horus on her body indicate that the woman herself was divine and that other people owed tribute to her. American archaeologists hope to find similar mummies like this in order to puzzle out their purpose.