A startling discovery has been made by an archaeologist working in Egypt's famed Valley of the Kings—a mummy with elaborate illustrative tattoos. This is not the first time that a mummy with tattoos has been discovered in Egypt—there are many examples of mummies with lines or dots tattooed on their skin—but this is the first time that a mummy with tattoos of symbols and animals has been unearthed.
The discovery by bioarchaeologist Anne Austin is sending shockwaves throughout the Egyptology community. The extensively tattooed female mummy is covered with ink that is spiritual in nature. Many of the tattoos are related to the goddess Hathor and some researchers believe that the tattoos may have been seen as a way to enhance the woman's magical powers while she sang to the goddess, according toNature.
Throughout the more than 30 tattoos that Austin and her team discovered one symbol is constantly recurring—Wadjet's eyes. The symbol was used throughout Egypt as a token of protection. "Any angle that you look at this woman, you see a pair of divine eyes looking back at you," Austin told Nature.
In an interview with LiveScience, Austin explained that she doubted the marks were tattoos at first. Since there was no previous discovery of such an extensively tattooed mummy the researcher from Stanford University came to the conclusion that the markings were merely drawn onto the skin after death. "As we started to analyze the markings on the arms, we realized that these markings were shrunken and distorted," Austin told LiveScience. "Therefore, they must have been made prior to mummification." In order to discover many of the designs researchers had to use infrared technology; the resins used in the mummification process had rendered many of the tattoos invisible to the naked eye.
Other mummies at the Deir el-Medina dig site have been found to have similar inkings. "Interestingly, all of the tattoos found so far have been exclusively on women, though we are curious to see if that trend continues as more tattoos are identified," Austin said. Looking at this discovery through the lens of modern tattooing's history is especially intriguing. For years it was much more taboo for women to be tattooed in western cultures, yet it appears as if the exact opposite was true in ancient Egypt.
Considering that they've already turned all of our beliefs about tattooing in Ancient Egyptian society on their ear, so we can't wait to see what other tattoo-related discoveries Austin and her team make in their research. If you are interested in learning more about the earliest roots of the art that we love today check out this article about the history of tattooing.