Tattoos were used for healing

In ancient times, the creation of permanent images on the body covered different functions, both aesthetic and healing.

Tattooing is a sacred act with a profound meaning linked to the transformation of the individual and his role within society. It was the outward sign to gain access to something sacred.
The tattooists were probably very popular because of their special abilities.


The Fire Mummies

One of the Fire Mummies or Kabayan Mummies found in the Philippines

Ancient Tattoos Mysteries

In the ancient Egypt only women had tattoos

Among the cultures known for practicing tattooing, we find the ancient Egyptians who reserved tattoos especially for women because they are elements linked to fertility.

An example is the mummy of Amunet, priestess of the goddess Hathor, who lived in Thebes around 2200 BC. Her remains shows many tattoos, probably of religious and healing nature.

Many finds of ceramic figurines depicting tattooed women, known as “Brides of the Dead“, with images of the God Bes, their protector, tattooed on their thighs, as well as the more traditional geometric motifs.

Detail of Amunet’s neck tattoo

Ancient Tattoos Mysteries

The Egyptian mummies of Gebelein, kept in the British Museum, date back to 3351 BC and have obvious figurative tattoos.

On the male body, scientists have identified images of a bull and what appears to be a Barbary sheep. On the woman’s body there are four “S” shaped symbols on the upper shoulder joint and an “L” sign on the abdomen.

The tattoos were done in the dermis, the thickest part of their skin, with an ink made with charcoal. Findings of particular copper instruments suggest they were tools for tattoos.

The Oldest Known Tattoos

The first known human being to carry tattoos is Ötzi (Man of the Similaun), a prehistoric man whose mummy was discovered in a glacier in the Italian Alps in 1991 and dates back to 5300 BC.

The tattoos are 61, geometric, made mainly of parallel lines. The technique used is till not clear: these tattoos were probably made by making very thin incisions or punctures in the upper layer of the skin and then rubbed with soot to obtain the image.

It is believed that these tattoos had a therapeutic purpose because the signs were found mainly in the knee and ankle joints, on the lower back and along the spine.
Here, in particular, the tattooed points seem to correspond to the points known by Chinese acupuncture used to treat rheumatism.

Others are located along the meridians used for the treatment of disorders such as back pain and abdominal pain.

Tattoos may have delimited the locations for acupuncture treatments, or maybe the tattoos were the treatment.

The discovery of Ötzi’s tattoos suggests that the practice of acupuncture is even older than we think.

Ancient Tattoos Mysteries - Otzi Mummy
 Otzi Mummy Tattoos

Deatils of Ötzi Tattoos

Ancient Tattoos Mysteries

Gebelin’s mummies and the Otzi ice man are the oldest tattooed people known to date.

They will have to help us understand the use of tattooing at the dawn of human civilisation.
What is certain is that tattooing is an ancient, therapeutic and magical practice and that only in relatively recent times has been mistakenly associated with delinquency and the wickedness inherent in the human soul.

The findings of these tattooed mummies allow us to say that tattoos age well. Indeed, our tattoos will survive us.

Pazyryk Culture Mummy Detail

Pazyryk Chief Tattoos Detail

Ancient Tattoos Mysteries

Some of the most spectacular tattoos of the ancient world regard the mummies found in the Altay mountains in Siberia. They are tombs dating back to the Iron Age (IV-V century BC) which preserved the remains of nobles belonging to the Pazyryk Culture. On the skin of these mummies there are intricate tattoos, depicting mythical and predatory animals that inhabited those territories: tigers, mouflons, ibexes, horses, argali, roe deer.

They are represented in action or in the form of “S”, which scholars call “the pose of agony”.

A fantastic animal that took the shape of a goat with the beak of an eagle and the tail of a feline appears in the upper part of the right shoulder of most mummies.

On the left shoulder, the mummies show the depiction of a tiger or a wild ram. A cock ready for battle is tattooed on the hands, while goats or rams are tattooed on the lower part of the legs.

These tattoos had a magical protective function, like the abstract drawings found imprinted in the hands of a man, perhaps a shaman, considered “spiritual weapons.”

Tattoos and the Romans

In Roman times, tattoos were used to mark slaves with the master’s initials, and it is thought that the first Christians used tattoos on their faces to communicate their faith: perhaps even for this reason Constantine in 235 AD it abolished the practice for Christians, as it represented an offense against the work of God (as well as being explicitly forbidden in Leviticus).

In Victorian times tattoos were negatively evaluated, to the point of being banned in different places, but their charm was still strong: it seems that Queen Victoria herself had the tattoo of a tiger struggling with a python.

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