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Infrared Imaging Finds Tattoos on Mummies

Credit: A. Austin/ScienceNews

Nobody knew style quite like ancient Egypt.

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ancient Egyptian mummies? Bandages? Sarcophagi? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson? All valid answers, but the one we were looking for was tattoos. Ancient Egyptians were all about that body art, and thanks to some modern tech, we can now get a surprisingly clear view of it.

Anne Austin, an archaeologist from the University of Missouri–St. Louis, utilized infrared imaging on ancient Egyptian mummies to get a look beneath the centuries of dust. She found a variety of fascinating tattoos on seven different mummies from Deir el-Medina dating back 3,000 years. Tattoos had only been found on a select few mummies before this, and those were only in the rare instance that their skin hadn’t been heavily corroded.

The majority of the mummies were identified as women, and their tattoos, which included eye patterns and various hieroglyphics, are believed to symbolize these women’s roles as priestesses or healers. One mummy had a whopping 30 tattoos across her body, and researchers believe she may have been some sort of religious practitioner. The meaning of the tattoos is still mostly hypothetical; because they’ve uncovered so many new tattoos thanks to the infrared scan, several existing Egyptian tattoo theories have been scuttled. Not a bad problem to have, mind you; it just means they’ve gotta figure them out.