Researchers from the University of Missouri and Johns Hopkins University has found evidence of tattoos on the bodies of Egyptian women who lived thousands of years ago.
According to the research, Ancient Egyptian women wore the tattoos to protect them during childbirth.
The hypothesis is based on the examination of mummified remains of two women from the New Kingdom site of Deir el-Medina (1550 B.C. to 1070 B.C. ), which is located on the Nile’s west bank, across the river from modern-day Luxor.
During the 18th to 20th Dynasties of Egypt’s New Kingdom, this was an ancient Egyptian workmen’s village which was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.
At the site, researchers Anne Austin and Marie-Lys Arnette have discovered that tattoos on ancient skin and tattooed figurines from the site are most likely connected with the ancient Egyptian god Bes, who protected women and children, particularly during childbirth.
In their paper, they describe the tattoos and outline their ideas regarding why the women got them.
Human remains from one tomb included a left hip bone of a middle-aged woman. Patterns of dark black pigmentation were seen on the preserved skin, creating an image that, if symmetrical, would have run along the woman’s lower back. Just to the left of the tattoo’s horizontal lines, they were able to make out representations of a bowl, a purification ritual, and a depiction of Bes, an Egyptian God whose function was to protect women and children, especially during childbirth.
Infrared photography was used to study the second mummy, which was still wrapped. t turned out to be the remains of a middle-aged woman with another tattoo. According to Austin, a reconstruction drawing of this tattoo shows a wedjat, or Eye of Horus, and a possible image of Bes wearing a feathered crown; it also had a zigzag line beneath the other figures, which ancient medical texts associated with cooling waters used to relieve pain from menstruation or childbirth.
The researchers also remark that clay figurines have also been found at the site depicting tattoos on the lower back and upper thighs of women, which also had images of Bes.
They published their findings in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology.
More information: Anne Austin et al. (2022). Of Ink and Clay: Tattooed Mummified Human Remains and Female Figurines from Deir el-Medina, The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. DOI: 10.1177/03075133221130089