A 5,300-Year-Old Mummy Was The Earliest Known Human With Tattoos, And Now, Researchers Have Finally Figured Out How The Markings On His Skin Came To Be

fotoluk1983 - - illustrative purposes only

In 1991, some hikers stumbled across the remains of a naturally preserved 5,300-year-old mummy in the Italian Alps. The mummy was given the name of Ötzi the Iceman. His death was caused by an arrow piercing his back. His discovery was especially notable since he is the earliest known human found with tattoos on his skin.

It is believed that Ötzi got his tattoos somewhere between 3370 and 3100 B.C.E. during the European Copper Age.

Researchers discovered that he had a total of 61 tattoos, most of which were parallel lines or crosses on his left calf, his abdomen, his lower legs, and either side of his spine. Since then, experts have wondered how the tattoos were made.

Human skin usually doesn’t survive throughout millennia, so there is very little information about ancient tattooing practices in the archaeological record.

However, some experts have speculated that the body modifications represented social status or had spiritual significance. Ötzi’s tattoos were thought to have medicinal or therapeutic purposes since ancient cultures believed tattoos could heal illnesses.

A research team consisting of archaeologists, historians, and professional tattoo artists has finally figured out how the markings came to be on Ötzi’s skin. Prior research has suggested four possible methods, including hand poking, hand tapping, subdermal tattooing, and incision.

In the new study, which was published in the European Journal of Archaeology, the team compared the four ancient tattooing techniques on modern human skin with the tattoos on Ötski’s skin. A tattoo artist named Danny Riday was recruited to perform the experiments. He repeatedly tattooed himself with eight different tools to analyze the healing patterns of the four techniques.

“Among these tests, an eyed bone needle was used for subdermal tattooing, the tip of an obsidian flake was used for puncture tattooing, and a separate obsidian flake was used for incising tattoos,” wrote the authors of the study. “Single-point copper and bone awls were used for hand-poke puncture tattooing.”

For the next six months, the researchers documented the healing process of the tattoos. Then, they compared each of them with Ötzi’s.

fotoluk1983 – – illustrative purposes only

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