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World’s oldest tattooed woman discovered in the British Museum’s Ancient Egyptian mummy collection

jasper hamill

World's oldest tattooed woman discovered in the British Museum
It’s believed the inked lady’s tattoos served some mystical or religious purpose (Photo: British Museum)

The earliest tattoos ever seen on a female body have been discovered in the British Museum.

A 5000-year-old Egyptian mummy has become the oldest tattooed woman in the world after scientists found strange motifs inked on her shoulders and arms.

She lived during the Predynastic period, an era before the first pharaoh united the nation in around 3100 BC.

The tattooed lady is known as Gebelein Woman and was found in Northern Egypt near the modern city of Luxor.

Researchers at the British Museum have also found the earliest figurative tattoos which depict figures rather than abtract patterns.

Gebelein Woman
A view of the world’s most ancient tattooed woman (Photo: British Museum)
Gebelein Woman stick tattoo
This is Gebelein Woman’s ‘stick tattoo’ (Photo: British Museum)

Tattoos of a wild bull and a Barbary sheep were identified on the upper arm of a male mummy called Gebelein Man.

Daniel Antoine, the British Museum’s Curator of Physical Anthropology, said: ‘The use of the latest scientific methods, including CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging, has transformed our understanding of the Gebelein mummies.

‘Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.’

Gebelein woman was inked with four small motifs running vertically over her right shoulder.

On her right arm is a linear patten which is similar to objects held by figures shown taking part in ceremonial activities on the pottery produced at the time,

Gebelein man
Gebelein Man, who has the world’s oldest figurative tattoos (Photo: British Museum)
Gebelein Man tattoo
The Egyptian man had wild animals tattooed on his body (Photo: British Museum)
The Barbary sheep carved on a ceremonial palette of the terminal Predynastic period
A Barbary sheep carved on a ceremonial palette made during the Predynastic period (Photo: Ashmolean Museum/University of Oxford)

It could represent a ‘crooked stave’, which is a symbol of power and status, or a throw-stick or ‘clappers’ used during ritual or religious dances.

All the woman’s tattoos were designed to be seen and may have denoted status, marked her as part of a cult or been inked on her skin as some form of protection.

Gebelein man was aged between 18 and 21 when he was stabbed in the back and killed.

Until the tattoos were found on his skin, it was believed that only women were tattooed in the Predynastic Era, because no ancient depictions of tattooed men had been seen on female figurines produced during the period.

It’s believed Gebelein Man’s tattoos of a wild bull and Barbary sheep reflected his power or strength.

Original Article

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