The World’s Oldest Tattoos

According to Smithsonian magazine, a recent discover around the Italian-Austrian border suggests that the earliest known form of tattooing occurred over five thousand years ago. This contradicts the well-established thought that the Egyptians trademarked the art of tattooing.

This “Iceman”‘s tattoos are described by Smithsonian as the following: “the tattooed dots and small crosses on his lower spine and right knee and ankle joints […] may have been applied to alleviate joint pain”.

Still, no one can deny the Egyptians’ contribution to the world of tattooing. There is considerate evidence of tattoos on Egyptian women. Between the years 4000-3500B.C., tombs were marked with scenes that illustrate women hosting tattoos on their thighs. Not only this, but we have evidence of tools used for tattooing in Gurob, which is located in the North of Egypt.


Why Tattoos?

Although being tattooed is an incredibly popular activity now, it’s a wonder who thought of it in the first place and why.

In Ancient Egypt, tattoos can be almost exclusively seen on women. Previously, it was thought that uncovered tattoo mummies were dancing girls more; however, the discovery of tattooed women in royal burials dismissed this belief.

The well-known priestess Amunet was originally believed to be one of these royal concubines; however, the inscriptions on her tomb allowed archaeologists to identify her.

What Instruments Were Used?

Like we previously mentioned, tattooing equipment was discovered in Gurob. These instruments are actually flattened needles. Patterns could be created from these needles if they were all bunched and tied together.

This form of tattooing greatly resembles a more modern practise. In nineteenth-century Egypt, tattoo equipment did not resemble contemporary North American tattoo equipment. Instead, needles were bunched together. Ink was made from the smoke black of either wood or oil, as well as breast milk.

Tattoos In Other Cultures

In Siberia, the body of a tattooed Scythian was found to be over two thousand years old. The body is male and has a torso, legs, and arms, covered in tattoos that resemble creatures of some sort.

Herodotus, the Greek writer and historian, even wrote about the practise of tattooing around the year 450 B.C. In his writing, he confirms that tattoos were actually a sign of nobility amongst Scythians and Thracians and that someone with a lower socioeconomic status would not have tattoos.

In Ancient Greece, on the other hand, tattoos were actually called “stigmata” rather than tattoos and one would be marked with them if he or she belonged to something. This sense of belonging could have been attributed to a religion, a god, or to an owner in the case of slavery.

That being said, Ptolemy IV (the pharaoh of Macedonian Egypt) was marked with tattoos and he was clearly not of a lower status. Ptolemy’s tattoos were tokens of his appreciation for the Greek god Dionysus.

The information in this post and featured image are borrowed from the following site:


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