SCIENTISTS have discovered the world's oldest tattoos on the arm of a 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummy on display at the British Museum. Gebelin Man A had tattoos of what appears to be a wild bull and a sheep, while Gebelein Woman had staff-like and S-shaped motifs on her upper arm and shoulder.
Until now, the earliest tattoos with geometric shapes (but not with animal or other representations) have been discovered in the alpine mummy known as the Egg of the Pagans and dating back to the fourth millennium BC, which is nearly contemporary with the tattoos of the Egyptian mummies. "Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals", said Antoine, one of the lead researchers on the paper, the report revealed. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium'.
The mummies were unearthed 100 years ago in the Egyptian town of Gebelein, around 40 km (24 miles) south of modern-day Luxor.
Before the discovery, archaeologists had thought tattoos were restricted to women.
First, CT scans showed he was murdered by being stabbed in the neck aged around 18 to 21. The tattoos may have indicated status or bravery, or they may have held spiritual importance, like an indication of special knowledge or protective powers.
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"His remains were preserved naturally perhaps because he was buried in the peak of summer or was in a shallow grave", he added.
The two mummies date back to Egypt's Predynastic period between 3351 and 3017 BCE.
The designs are under the skin and the pigment is probably soot.
Until the tattoos were found on his skin, it was believed that only women were tattooed in the Predynastic Era, because no ancient depictions of tattooed men had been seen on female figurines produced during the period. One stick-shaped tattoo found on her right arm resembles objects seen painted on ceramics from the period, while another collection of "S" shaped tattoos was found on her right shoulder.
All the woman's tattoos were created to be seen and may have denoted status, marked her as part of a cult or been inked on her skin as some form of protection. In September 1991, scientists reported 61 tattoos, mostly geometric markings on a mummy dubbed Ötzi the Iceman, who lived between 3400 and 3100 BC.