Even though there is still a negative stigma surrounding tattoos, they have been a part of many societies for hundreds of thousands of years. Cultures all around the world have utilized not only tattooing but body piercing as well as scarification to signify adulthood, triumphs, and failures. So no, tattoos didn’t start in prison like a lot of people seem to think. They started as a symbol of lives lived. We scoured the internet to find the five oldest examples we could of tattoos found on ancient bodies so enjoy!
5. The Egyptians were definitely a culture that used tattoos. While many of the mummies found had simple dots and lines inked on them, a mummy being studied in 2016 was found to have over THIRTY distinctive tattoos. This mummy was the first to be found with such elaborate artwork on their skin. The female mummy had artwork consisting of lotus flowers, baboons, and “wadjet eyes”, which are a symbol to ward off evil. With these being the symbols tattooed on her, researchers believe that she was probably an important member of society and possibly even had religious powers. These tattoos were said to be dated as old as 1300-1070 BC.
4. Located around the Tarim Basin, many mummies have been found in very well-preserved states due to the dryness in the
desert. Because their skin is in such good condition, the tattoos are very visible. Also, due to the technique used to tattoo these people, the markings are darker, making them more apparent than other mummies. These have been dated between 1800-100 BC.
3. In the late 1800s, there were several female tattooed mummies that were found in Egypt. The mummies were all priestesses of the Goddesss Hathor and the most well known mummy of the group was a woman named Amunet. When these mummies were first discovered, they were thought to perhaps been ladies of the evening, as the tattoos were seen as being sensual. However, after studying them for an extended period of time, scientists now believe that the tattoos were a connection to the Goddess herself. The tattoos themselves were mainly of dots and lines over her torso and arms. These interesting pieces of artwork dated between 2134-1991 BCE.
2. Oringially thought be be as old as 4000 BCE, the tattooed Chinchorro man was recently discovered to have been around much later. This man has an interesting tattoo, a series of dots above his upper lip that resemble a mustache. No other Chinchorro mummies have this tattoo, leaving scientists to wonder if perhaps this was an indication of social status, tribal allegiance, or a sign of an outcast. With the new information scientists have today, the tattooed Chinchorro man is thought to have been around between 2563-1972 BCE.
1. Perhaps the most famous (and definitely the oldest) is Otzi the Iceman. He has 61 tattoos across his body. He has a collection of black lines ranging from 1mm to 3mm in thickness and 7 to 40mm long. Otzi is supposed to have been around sometime during 3400-3100 BCE. While scientists have acknoweldged Otzi as the oldest, they believe that the process of tattooing dates back even further and that there may still be mummies that have tattoos that haven’t been found quite yet.