Tattoos from Ancient Egypt Realistic, a First

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May 14, 2016

A dig at the well-known Egyptian worker village of Deir el-Medina has unearthed a mummy of a woman sporting tattoos of recognizable things, which is a first, archaeologists say.

The village dates to the 2nd Century B.C. and was home to the builders of the Valley of the Kings, burial site for many of Egypt’s most well-known rulers. The mummy had on it tattoos of cows, snakes, baboons, and lotus blossoms that could be clearly seen as such. Tattooing in Ancient Egypt was not unheard of, but the illustrations tended to be abstract in nature.

Some tattoos clearly showed cows, suggesting an association with the Egyptian goddess Hathor, commonly depicted as a cow. The depiction of snakes along with particularly drawn sets of eyes also suggested the snake goddess Wadjet. The eyes are also seen as a measure of protection.

The tattoos were on the neck, arms, and torso.

Stanford archaeologist Anne Austin made the discovery while on a dig run by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology. Austin also said that the images were shrunken and distorted, supporting the idea that they were tattoos done while the person was alive rather than, as has more numerously been found, images of amulets and other shapes that were drawn after expressly for burial purposes. The placing of a real amulet around a person’s neck for burial was common in Ancient Egypt.

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