Tuesday, March 10, 2009

POST 2: louise - Ancient Egyptian Tattoos

Since ancient Egyptian culture existed such a long time ago, true facts of their lifestyle are often hard to attain. Knowledge of their history and cultural customs is dependent on the strength of the preservation techniques used on the dead, and the lasting materials used to create their possessions.

When i researched i did find evidence of tattoo usage in ancient egypt, but much of the information is of the same individual female mummy because her body was so well preserved. Her tomb identifies her as Amunet, Priestess of Hathor, sometimes described as a concubine of Mentuhotep ll, she lived during Dynasty Xl (2160 - 1994 BC) in Thebes. Tattoo patterns are still clearly visible on her preserved flesh. She had parallel lines marked on her arms and thighs and an elliptical pattern below the navel in the pelvic region.

  <-- A reproduction of the tattoo markings found on Amunet's mummified body.

Modern day egyptian tattoo design gives the impression that amulet type designs or hyrogific symbols were used in ancient designs, but truthfully there has never been any proof of that at all.
The earliest evidence of tattoos in Egyptian culture comes from clay figurines dating to roughly 4000BCE. These female figurines are decorated with dots, dashes and diamond shapes(known as lozenges). This was inconclusive evidence until the discovery and examination of preserved, mummified bodies, such as Amunet, whose body designs closely echo the patterns etched on the figurines.

Several other female mummies from this period also clearly show similar tattoos as well as ornamental scarring (cicatrization, still popular in parts of Africa) across the lower abdomen.The lozenges are anciently and traditionally connected to the primal female power of the universe, the Great Mother.

Many traditional cultures also use tattoos on the flesh as a sort of passport to the world after death, although interestingly, with all the emphasis on the next world in ancient Egyptian culture, there is no indication that this was the case there.
Certainly, the connection between tattoos and the divine existed in ancient Egypt. Other designs discovered so far are connected to religion. Mummies dating from roughly 1300 BCE are tattooed with pictographs symbolizing Neith, a prominent female deity (a goddess) who symbolizes military unity and strength. These are the only tattoos that at this point seem to have a link with male bearers.


The earliest known tattoo, which is not an abstract design, is an image of the god Bes. Bes is half dwarf, half lion and his legend dances and bangs noisy percussion instruments to drive off evil spirits. He is a protector of the home and its believed to hold a special love for women and children. His image appears as a tattoo on the thighs of dancers and musicians in many Egyptian paintings. Female ancient southern Egyptian mummies from around 400BCE have been discovered with Bes placed similarly on their flesh.

Egyptian God : Bes

Tattooing seems to be virtually an exclusively female province in Egyptian history. Perhaps there isn't enough conclusive evidence to report that only women wore tattoos. There are images of male figures bearing what may be tattoo marks, however it is obviously hard to be sure.

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