Oldest Known Tattoos Confirmed To Belong To Ötzi The Iceman Mummy

South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / EURAC / Samadelli

Who said that tattoos don’t age well? It has been confirmed the first tattoos ever recorded belong to Ötzi the Tyrolean iceman, a 5,000-year-old naturally-preserved mummy.

The earliest known tattooed human was thought to be an unidentified South American Chinchorro mummy. However, a new study has shown that this mummy is not as old as previously thought. 
 
It was initially thought the South American mummy walked the Earth around 6000 BCE. Although, the study in the Journal of Archaeological Science reports that the previous radiocarbon dating results on the Chinchorro mummy were actually 4,000 years off. The oldest known tattoo title has now been “awarded” to Ötzi, who is believed to have got inked up somewhere between 3370 and 3100 BCE.
 
Ötzi was found in the Ötztal Alps on the Austrian-Italian border by hikers in 1991. Earlier this year, researchers using techniques developed to study paintings revealed he had 61 tattoos, most of which consist of thin, parallel black lines or crosses and can be found on both sides of his spine, the left calf, the right instep, both sides of his ankle joint and on the right of his torso.
 
image credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / EURAC / Samadelli 
 

image credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / EURAC / Samadelli 

There’s very little written record of tattooing practises from antiquity. However, archaeologists and anthropologists believe they were often used to denote social status, express group affiliation or even used in an attempt to channel supernatural forces. Interestingly, Ötzi’s tattoos are thought to have been “therapeutic” and “medicinal”, with ancient cultures believing tattoos had healing properties that could relieve physical ailments and illness.

This suggests the first known tattoo was actually "medicinal" and didn't serve a cosmetic or social function, unlike the Chinchorro mummy's tattoos which are thought to be cosmetic. His tattoo was of numerous black dots in a line on his upper lip, where the moustache would be.

The researchers believe it is “highly unlikely” that Ötzi was the first tattooed person on Earth, though. They hope through new archaeological finds and more advanced dating techniques they will find a tattoo which is much older than 5,200 years.

image credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / EURAC / Samadelli

image credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology / EURAC / Samadelli

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