'Oldest tattoo' found on 5000-year-old Egyptian mummies

British Museum    
     PRESERVED The mummy's are 5,000 years old

The two mummies are said to be "nearly contemporaneous" with Tyrolean mummy Otzi, which positions them "amongst the bearers of some of the oldest preserved tattoos in the world".

A male mummy was found to have tattoos depicting a wild bull and a Barbary sheep on its upper arm, while a female has linear and S-shaped motifs on its upper arm and shoulder.

Tattoos have previously been found on mummies from later in Egypt's history. The bodies - dubbed "Gebelein Woman" and "Gebelin Man A" - were found buried in a shallow grave, and without any special treatments; the desert's dryness, salinity, and heat prevented the bodies from decaying, which is why they were found in such remarkably good condition. The discovery also shows that tattooing was practiced by both sexes at the time.

Considering the location of both sets of tattoos, they may have been meant to denote status, bravery, cult/magical knowledge or protection.

Scientists saw the markings on a male and a female mummy dating back between 3351 and 3017 BC, according to a report published Thursday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The tattoos were found on male and female mummies. Researchers used infrared technology on what were initially thought to be just dark smudges to identify the body art.

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Another mummy, a female one, known as "Gebelein Woman", has several tattoos; a series of four small "S" shaped motifs can be seen running vertically over her right shoulder.

Then a sooty smudge on his arm was revealed by infrared imaging to be overlapping designs of a wild bull - a symbol of virility - and a horned barbary sheep.

"Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium", Daniel Antoine, the curator of physical anthropology at the British Museum is quoted as saying by The Guardian.

Researchers believe that the tattoos were created using some kind of soot and may have been worn as a symbol of power or strength.

Mr Antoine told The Times: "It is the earliest use of figurative tattoos".

The tattooed lady is known as Gebelein Woman and was found in Northern Egypt near the modern city of Luxor. The images on the two mummies in the museum depict actual objects or beings, making them figurative, and are the oldest known example of such tattoos at 5000 years, breaking the old record by a thousand years. That benchmark still most likely goes to a naturally preserved mummified male named Ötzi, discovered in the Ötztal Alps in 1991.

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