Ancient Egyptians liked their ink

Ancient Egyptians liked their ink

Exhibit at the British Museum puts a human face on mummies, highlighting their dental problems, high cholesterol and tattoo choices

A 1,300-year-old mummy of a woman who was found to have a tattoo on her inner thigh (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)
A 1,300-year-old mummy of a woman who was found to have a tattoo on her inner thigh (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)

Ancient Egyptians weren’t so different from us, it seems, and even enjoyed getting some tattoos from time to time, according to a new mummy exhibit at the British Museum that exposes intimate details about the lives of Nile residents.

The exhibit, titled “Ancient Lives: New Discoveries,” centers on eight mummies from various social classes and time periods –- ranging from 3,500 BC to 700 AD -– and uses state-of-the-art CAT scans as well as infrared technology and carbon dating to paint a clearer picture of what the lives of Egyptians may have looked like in ancient times.

The scans were carried out in London hospitals over a period of several weeks, and produced three-dimensional images of internal organs without actually harming the integrity of the corpses.

They showed that two of the mummified people suffered from high cholesterol and probably heart disease. Almost all of them had poor dental health, with decayed teeth and abscesses in their mouths and throats, and probably suffered from terrible toothaches.

One mummy, a young woman from a Christian community from around 700 AD in what is now Sudan, was found to have a tattoo carrying the name of the Archangel Michael on her inner thigh. It is believed that the symbol was intended to provide her with spiritual protection.

“She is the first evidence of a tattoo from this period. This is a very rare find,” exhibit curator Dr. Daniel Antoine told the Daily Telegraph.

The exhibit, which opens May 22, aims to provide a more familiar, humanizing angle on the Egyptian mummies, often portrayed as supernatural and even evil “creatures” in popular culture.

“We want to promote the idea these are not objects but real human beings,” said John Taylor, head curator of the museum’s Ancient Egypt and Sudan department. “We want to capture the humanity of these people.”

read more: