|Tattooed Mummy |
|Date(s)||1550 BC and 1080 BC|
This partial female mummy, what remains is a headless, armless torso, dates from 1300 to 1070 BC. The site where she was found, Deir el-Medina, was a home for artisans and workers who worked in the Valley of the Kings. The residents of Deir el-Medina would carve sculptures and inscriptions for pharaohs and gods for tombs.
The woman's role in Egyptian society is not identified. The tattoos could indicate that she was either a priestess, dancer, singer or court woman, but this is entirely speculative.
Though sources do not go in depth about the mummification, there is mention that the process used various resins. The resin darkened the skin, and rendered the tattoos invisible to the naked eye.
In August of 2016, bioarchaeologist Anne Austin of Stanford University presented the findings at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.
While researching the findings at Deir el-Medina in the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology, Austin noticed several neck markings Initially, she believed these were painted post-mortem, as it was a common practice to place amulets around the neck during burial.
Further analysis revealed that these markings were permanent, as their distortion could only be achieved if they were on the skin before death. Austin then used infrared imaging to penetrate deeply into the skin, and discovered more than thirty tattoos-some of which were initially visible and others which were invisible due to the darkened skin. She catalogued the tattoos with archaeologist Cédric Gobeil, stretching the digital images to compensate for the distortion of the skin. The result were several identifiable symbols and images.
Tattooing began in Ancient Egypt around 2040-1782 BCE or the Middle Kingdom. Evidence suggests that only women were tattooed. This may have been as to show dedication to a god, to show servitude, to indicate profession or to promote fertility and protection. Tattoos were originally associated with prostitutes or dancers by early Egyptologists. However, the mummies of priestesses and of court women challenge this assumption. Tattoos could link the women to the worship of Hathor, the Ancient Egyptian goddess of fertility. It is also likely that many social classes had tattoos.
The fact that the unnamed female at Deir el-Medina was tattooed by someone else, as indicated by the tattoos on the back, and received more tattoos as older ones faded shows that tattooing likely had significance in Ancient Egyptian culture. The scale of the designs, combined with the painful and time-consuming process of tattooing also led archaeologists to conclude that they had more than an ornamental function. It is speculated that the tattoos are a representation of her religious belief, perhaps in the goddess Hathor.
In total, the woman possesses around thirty tattoos. These include images of lotuses on her hips, cows and snakes on her arm and sacred symbols on her neck, shoulders and back. Among the sacred symbols are wadjet eyes, that function as God's protection against evil. The tattoos on her neck may signify the importance of her voice, either as a speaker or a singer. The tattoos could also be nefer symbols, representations of "beauty and goodness."
She is one of the first mummies found in Ancient Egypt to have identifiable images etched onto her skin, rather than the abstract dots and lines on other mummies. The tattoos, which were barely visible on the mummified skin, were found using infrared imagery.
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