According to a report from Science News, infrared imaging revealed that smudges on the upper-right arm of a naturally mummified man and woman are actually tattoos of a wild bull and a Barbary sheep. The tattoos date back 5,000 years, according to the report, and could be the world’s oldest tattoos. The investigation alleges that the two human mummies, on display at the British Museum in London for over a century, carry the longest hidden tattoos of figures and designs. The report claims that the two people lived in Egypt during the rise of the first pharaoh about 5,100 years ago.
The report also says that radiocarbon analysis of hairs from the mummies revealed that the two mummies date back to 3351 BCE to 3017 BCE. The two mummies were the only ones with tattoos out of the seven discovered from the same site in Egypt. According to BBC News, the revelation pushes back evidence for the practice in Africa by 1,000 years. Researchers believe that the tattoos probably denoted social status, bravery, or magical knowledge, according to the report.
Daniel Antoine, the Museum’s curator of physical anthropology, explained, “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.”
Prior to the discovery, the oldest example of tattooing was found on the alpine mummy called Otzi, who is thought to have lived between 3370 BCE to 3100 BCE. However, the tattoos of the alpine mummy are vertical or horizontal lines, which covered areas of joint disease, indicating that it may have been done for treatment. The Egyptian mummies showed no sign of disease, and their tattoos are figurative when compared to the tattoos of the alpine mummy.
According to the Daily Mail, the tattoo on the man are symbolic displays of his strength and virility; bulls and goats were associated with masculine strength in ancient times. An s-shaped motif was also identified on the upper arm and shoulder of the female mummy. The designs are under the skin, and the pigment is used for the design may be soot, according to the report. The man, known as “Gebelein Man A,” died a violent death at a young age, from a stab wound to his back, according to the report.