2160 to 1994 BCE (AKA 4,000 Years Ago)
The Egyptian Middle Kingdom
Celebrated and well known in the body art industry but perhaps less so in archaeology is our next case of ancient tattooing with evidence from ancient Egypt.
It is during the course of the Middle Kingdom that the first evidence of Egyptian tattooing enters the archaeological record. That evidence takes the form of actual tattoos preserved on a mummy from Thebes.Here at Deir El-Bahari lies the mortuary temple (not only of the much later and well known Hatshepsut) but also of the Pharoah Mentuhotep dating to the 11th Dynasty and the founding of the Middle Kingdom, approximately 2160 to 1994 BCE. Excavated in 1891 by Eugene Grebaut (successor to Maspero as Director of the Antiquities Service), the mummy is that of a woman named Amunet, who served as a priestess of the goddess Hathor at Thebes. Buried within the Pharaoh’s mortuary temple precinct, all the tombs there were plundered except for this one which was found in the very northernmost corner of a triangular court. It belonged to the “King’s Favorite, Amunet,” her body was tattooed and her neck was loaded with necklaces and bead collars. On her bandages were the names, not only of the “King of Upper and Lower Egypt, the Son of Re, Mentuhotep,” but of his daughter and some of his other ladies as well. She was likely a concubine as well as a priestess and was apparently depicted in temple reliefs with other concubines. Her mummy was in an excellent state of preservation. Her tattoos comprise a series of abstract patterns of individual dots or dashes placed upon her body with no apparent regard for formal zoning of the artwork. An elliptical pattern of dots and dashes is tattooed on her lower abdomen beneath the navel. Parallel lines of the same pattern are found on her thighs and upper arms.