World's oldest tattoos are found on Egyptian mummies

The world's oldest figurative tattoos have been discovered on 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummies at the British Museum.

The tattoos are of a wild bull and a Barbary sheep on the upper-arm of a male mummy, and S-shaped motifs on the upper-arm and shoulder of a female.

The find dates tattoos containing imagery rather than geometric patterns to 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. 

Researchers say the discovery 'transforms' our understanding of how people lived during this period.

The world's oldest figurative tattoos have been discovered on Egyptian mummies at the British Museum. Pictured are four S-shaped motifs that run down a female mummy's right shoulder

The world's oldest figurative tattoos have been discovered on Egyptian mummies at the British Museum. Pictured are four S-shaped motifs that run down a female mummy's right shoulder

The 5,000-year-old male mummy, which is naturally preserved, has been one of the star displays at the British Museum, visited by millions each year, since its discovery in a cemetery over 100 years ago.

Previous research revealed that the man, known as Gebelein Man A, died a violent death between the ages of around 18 to 21, from a stab wound to his back.

But dark smudges on his arm, which appeared as faint markings under natural light, have now been examined.

Infrared technology has now revealed that the smudges were tattoos of two slightly overlapping horned animals well known in Predynastic Egyptian art.

Daniel Antoine, the British Museum's curator of physical anthropology, said the male mummy was 'one of the most popular displays at the British Museum'. 

'His remains were preserved naturally perhaps because he was buried in the peak of summer or was in a shallow grave,' he added.

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