inked mummies linking tattoo artists with their ancient craft While the world’s oldest tattooed mummy was discovered in the Otzi Iceman – a 5,300-year-old corpse found in the Italian Alps – it’s still unclear exactly when and where tattooing originated. However, there is evidence that many cultures have been practising the art of tattooing for centuries.
In fact, some of the earliest examples of tattoos can be found on mummies from around the world. These inked mummies provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of tattooing – and they also offer insight into how this ancient practice has evolved over time.
One of the most famous tattooed mummies is known as “Ötzi the Iceman”. This 5,300-year-old corpse was discovered in 1991 in the Ötztal Alps, on the border between Austria and Italy. Ötzi’s body is covered in 61 different tattoos, which were all created using a sharp instrument and sooty ink.
These tattoos – which include lines, crosses and other simple geometric shapes – are thought to have had a therapeutic or spiritual purpose. For example, it’s been suggested that the placement of some of the tattoos may have helped to relieve pain in Ötzi’s joints.
While Ötzi the Iceman is the oldest tattooed mummy that has been found to date, he’s not the only one. In fact, there are a number of other mummies from around the world that provide insight into the history of tattooing.
For example, in 2018, researchers discovered a 3,000-year-old tattooed mummy in Egypt. This mummy – which is known as the “Gebelein Man” – has tattoos of animals and symbols on his arms and legs. These tattoos are thought to have had a spiritual meaning, and they may have been used to protect the man in the afterlife.
Similarly, a 2,500-year-old Chinese mummy known as “the Tattooed Lady of Xinjiang” was also found to have a number of intricate tattoos on her body. These tattoos – which include animals, mythical creatures and geometric shapes – are thought to have had a protective or spiritual purpose.
In addition to providing insight into the history of tattooing, these inked mummies also offer clues about the development of this ancient art form. For example, the placement of Ötzi’s tattoos suggests that tattoo artists in the Copper Age were already aware of human anatomy. This knowledge would have been essential for creating tattoos that had therapeutic or spiritual benefits.
Moreover, the detailed tattoos on the “Tattooed Lady of Xinjiang” mummy show that tattoo artists in China were already skilled in creating intricate designs. This suggests that tattooing was already an established art form in China 2,500 years ago.