Record Breaking: Researchers Reveal  5,300-Year-Old Mummy Has Tattoos Grouped Across 19 Body Parts

by 29lab 26-05-2023

The oldest tattoos in the world belong to an ancient iceman.

Ötzi, the 5,300-year-old mummy has tattoos grouped across 19 body parts, and researchers in Italy revealed a ‘new’ tattoo on the iceman earlier this year, bringing the total count up to 61.

It has long been disputed that the title could belong instead to an unidentified South American Chinchorro mummy, but scientists have now confirmed that Ötzi’s are the oldest.

Fresh examinations of the South American mummy, which has a mustache-like tattoo around its face, show that this specimen is much younger than previously believed.

Scientists once thought this mummy died around 4,000 BC, according to The Independent, but now they know this is not the case. Ötzi, the Tyrolean iceman, died much earlier, around 3250 BC.

‘I was surprised by the findings because in previous publications I brought attention to the tattooed Chinchorro mummy and its early date,’ Lars Krutak, who was involved in the research, told Smithsonian Science News.

‘But after reviewing the facts, we were compelled to publish the article as soon as possible to set the record straight and stem the tide of future work compounding the error.’

Ötzi and his tattooed rival are not the only known specimens to have ancient ink. Hundreds of others have also been found across the world, though none as old as the iceman so far.

Still, researchers believe they will find even older tattoos as investigations progress. The origin of tattooing in human culture is different to locate, and scientists are exploring the significance of this ancient practice.

‘Apart from the historical implications of our paper, we shouldn’t forget the cultural roles tattoos have played over millennia,’ Krutak told Smithsonian Science.

‘Cosmetic tattoos—like those of the Chinchorro mummu—and therapeutic ones—like those of the Iceman—have been around for a very long time.’

For years, investigators struggled to get an agreed upon number for Ötzi’s tattoo count.

Using special lenses that capture different wavelengths of light, a team in Italy was able to detect even the most obscure of the black-line tattoos.

The most recent find reveals a tattoo of four thin, stacked black lines on the lower side of Ötzi’s right ribcage, according to LiveScience.

Over time, the mummy’s skin has darkened, making the black tattoos difficult to trace.

While researchers can’t be sure why Ötzi had the tattoos, many think that they served as a form of acupuncture.

‘We know that they were real tattoos,’ Albert Zink, the study’s senior researcher and head of the Institute, told LiveScience. The ancient tattoo artist who applied them ‘made the incisions into the skin, and then they put in charcoal mixed with some herbs.

The tattoos, mostly found on Ötzi’s lower back and legs, between the knee and food, may have been a way to relieve the effects of chronic pain or injuries.

Ötzi was thought to do a lot of walking in the Alps, which could have resulted in joint pain in his knees and ankles.

The 61st tattoo, found on the ribcage, has researchers wondering if Ötzi also suffered from chest pain. This pain may have even been a ‘referred’ pain, indicating pain in a place distant from the actual site of the pain.

If the tattoos were not for therapeutic benefit, the researchers say they could have had symbolic or religious significance.