Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ancient Egypt

Kemet, the name ancient Egyptians used to name their homeland, has a fascinating and complex history of tattoo. Our knowledge of ancient Egyptian tattoo comes to us from the Middle Kingdom, about 4000 years ago. To the left is an image of the earthly remains of Amunet, an Egyptian woman who had been a priestess of Hathor and probably a special concubine to the Pharoah Mentuhotep. We know this because his name is written on her wrappings and she appears alongside other concubines in temple art. Of all the tombs in Metuhotep's complex hers was the only one not plundered by thieves. Notice the patterns on her abdomen; they are right where the belly expands during pregnancy.

The oldest known non-geometric tattoo pattern also comes to us from ancient Egypt. The mummies of two dancing girls found under the tomb of Hatshepsut have images of the the god Bes who, among other things, was a protector of children and women in labor. Interestingly, the Bes tattoos are on the upper thighs which obviously makes the images close to the newborn child.

To date, no Egyptian males have been found with tattoos. There are only female mummies with tattoos, which, along with the placement of the tattoos, leads many to believe they were therapeutic art concerned with pregnancy and childbirth. Strangely enough, there is ancient Egyptian art that clearly shows men with tattoos but, so far, no male Egyptian mummies have been found with ink of any kind.

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