'Oldest tattoo' found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

'Oldest tattoo' found on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies

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LONDON -

Researchers have discovered the oldest figurative tattoos in the world on two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.

BBC News reports that the discovery pushes back evidence for the practice in Africa by 1,000 years.

Details of the tattoos have been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

One of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum's Curator of Physical Anthropology, Daniel Antoine, told BBC that the discovery had "transformed" understanding of how people lived in this era.

"Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium," he told BBC News.

The male mummy was found about 100 years ago. Previous CT scans of the body showed that he died from a stab wound to the back when he was between 18 and 21 years old.

Dark smudges on his arm were thought to be unimportant until infrared scans revealed that they were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals. The female mummy has four small S-shaped motifs running down her right shoulder. The designs are under the skin and the pigment is is thought to be soot.

The researchers believe that the tattoos would have denoted status, bravery and magical knowledge.

Visitors to the British Museum in London can see the tattooed mummies on display. 

Prior to the discovery, archaeologists believed tattooing in Egypt was only performed on women, as tattoos were only depicted on female figurines of the period.

The mummies were found in Gebelein in the southern part of Upper Egypt, around 40km south of modern-day Luxor.

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