Those of us with tattoos know the drill. We walk in, choose a design and hope that it doesn’t hurt, especially if there’s a cute person in the room. Cringing isn’t cute. We then walk out and wait for it to heal while waiting impatiently to show off our new ink. Tattoos used to be a mark of street credibility.
Nowadays almost everybody has one. Back in the old days, there were no tattoo parlors. Tattoos were a social rite of passage for some societies and were used to mark different societal responsibilities and stages of maturity. These tattoos have sparked debates on how long they have been used in human history and archaeologists have found evidence of a large number of mummies that had tattoos on their bodies.
6. Otzi the Iceman
In 1991 near the Otztal Alps near Similaun Mountain on the border between Austria and Italy, archaeologists uncovered Otzi, the iceman (LINK 1). He was discovered frozen in ice, and his body had a large number of Copper Age tattoos. He had about 50 tattoos in total and they weren’t done in a tattoo parlor either. History suggests that his tattoos were made by making small cuts in his skin, which were then later rubbed with charcoal.
According to where they were found, researchers believe that they were medicinal tattoos. They were found mostly on the joints and along the back. These were areas that were prone to pain and injury and the tattoos may have been an early form of acupuncture. They also found large amounts of pollen in his stomach which indicates that Otzi may have died around the summer.
5. The Loulan Beauty
Along the ancient trade route known as the Silk Road in 1980, archaeologists discovered Loulan. She was found along with 200 other mummies who all died around 3800 years ago. They were part of societies who settled along the Silk Road and relied on it for their livelihood. They called her the Loulan beauty because the dry and salty soil preserved her features very well and she was quite beautiful.
They also believe that she died from lung disease because of the environmental pollution from open fires and sand in the surrounding area. Most of the mummies found together with Loulan had tattoos as well. Some of the tattoos include crescent moons, oval shapes and decorative hand tattoos.
A male mummy was also found alongside Loulan and he had tattoos in the shape of the sun which were drawn on his face temples. The tattoos were drawn by making small punctures in the skin and filling them in with ink.
4. The Peruvian Woman
In Northern Peru near Huaca Cao Viejo in the village of Trujillo, a mummy was discovered in a Moche tomb. The Moche society lived in Northern Peru around 100 to 800 A.D. Archaeologists stumbled on the tomb, which was filled with gold needles used for sewing and jewelry.
They believe the woman to have occupied a very high status in her society, because of the war clubs and spear throwers they also found in the tomb. Her body was heavily tattooed, and tattoos in her culture were a mark of success and power. Researchers believe her to be around 1500 years old and she is currently helping to shed new light on the Moche culture.
3. The Chinchorro Mummy
Near the city of Arica in Chile, archaeologists uncovered a 7000 year old mummy (LINK 2). He belonged to the ancient Chinchorro culture. This particular mummy was found along with 100 other mummies found at a site at El Morro and is estimated to have died between 2563 and 1972 B.C.
He was found with a tattoo on his upper lip which consisted of a line of dots. The family of mummies found at El Morro are some of the oldest human mummies ever, and this tattooed mummy has been constantly fighting for the title of the world’s oldest tattoo with Otzi the Iceman.
2.The Chiribaya Mummy
A team from Austria’s Medical University of Graz led by Maria Anna Pabst found this female mummy (LINK 3). It was found in Chiribaya Alta in Southern Peru and is estimated to be 1000 years old.They found tattoos in the shapes of reptiles, apes, and various symbols. On four of her fingers they have found tattooed rings. Other tattoos she had included 12 circles which were tattooed around her neck. These circles are believed to be medicinal and were probably used for neck pain relief.
1. The Greenland Mummies
Eight mummies were found in 1972, in North America in an area called Uummannaq, at a settlement called Qilakitsoq. The mummies included six women and two children and were well preserved by the extremely cold temperatures. Of the six women, five had tattoos. Two of them had dots on their foreheads and lines drawn on their eyebrows. Three of them had lines tattooed below their chins.
All of the five women had tattoos on their cheeks. These mummies are important in discovering the history and culture of Greenland and researchers put four of them on permanent display at the Greenland National Museum in Nuuk.