New research is unraveling more of the mystery behind a heavily tattooed 3,000-year-old mummy found buried in the West Bank of Luxor in Eygpt.
The mysterious woman was first discovered in 2014 by an expedition from the French Institute of Oriental Studies near the village of Deir El-Madina, a settlement that housed workers who built the royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings. Over the years, more information about the inked-up mummy has been brought to light.
“Scientific and archaeological studies reveal that it is the mummy of a woman who probably lived between 1300 and 1070 [BCE] and died when her age ranged between 25 and 34 years," Mustafa el Waziri, secretary general of the supreme council of Antiques in Egypt, said in a new statement given to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
Her decomposing skin is decorated with at least 23 tattoos, including depictions of bulls, sheep, baboons, and lotus flowers. She also has a tattoo of cows on her arm, most likely referencing the goddess Hathor, associated with motherhood, fertility, and beauty. Importantly, she also appears to have several visible tattoos of the eye of Horus on her neck, shoulders, and back, a divine symbol that was believed to ward off evil.
“Any angle that you look at this woman, you see a pair of divine eyes looking back at you,” bioarchaeologist Anne Austin of Stanford University in California told Nature News in 2016.
Dr el Waziri added that her tattoos indicate she was most likely an elite member of the community, and her multiple tattoos "reflects that the mummy belongs to a woman who enjoyed an important religious status throughout her life". However, much of this person remains a mystery, primarily because she's missing her head and hands, and her tomb had been heavily looted over the centuries. In fact, when archaeologists first came across her body in 2014, they didn’t know she was heavily tattooed, they thought that she had been graffitied or painted on.
The oldest known tattoos in the world belong to Ötzi the Iceman, a naturally-preserved glacial mummy, who lived around 3370 to 3100 BCE in the European Alps. People also appeared to be tattooing in Egypt shortly after this time too, as shown by two ancient Egyptian mummies who sport the oldest figurative tattoos in the world.
Wherever these early incarnations of body art are found in the world, they often seem to have been used to express an affiliation to a certain group or to indicate a spiritual relationship, or position of power. In the case of Ötzi the Iceman, researchers believe that his 63 tattoos were therapeutic as they were are placed extremely close to traditional acupuncture points on the body. Unfortunately, his body modifications didn't stop him from dying of a brutal attack by a vengeful enemy.
[H/T: Science Alert]