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Tattoos: The Human Body as a Work of Art

the female mummies of the same period. It seems that ancient Egyptians

connected tattooing with the art of music and dance. One can detect such

a connection in a faience plate from the New Kingdom Period (1550-1070

BC). The plate depicts a painted female figure with a tattoo of the Egyptian



on her thigh strumming a string instrument.


Archeological evidence suggests that human body ornamentation

dates back to the birth of mankind. The bones of

Homo Sapiens

buried side

by side with animal bones, tools, shells, and ochre lumps - probably used

to decorate the body or the graves, were found in the Skhul Cave in Mt.

Carmel and in the Kafza Cave in the Galilee.


These bones date back to the

Middle Paleolithic Period (100,000 BP).

Shells and bone vessels with traces of pigment prepared from red ochre,

discovered in the Blombos Cave (South Africa), date back to the Middle

African Stone Age (100,000-75,0000 BP).


Archeologists believe that the

cave was used as as an art workshop. It is possible that the ochre was used

to paint the body, while the shells were used as tools for tattooing the



The most ancient tattooing tool kit ever found is attributed to the

Magdalenian culture (17,000-9,000 BP) and was found in the prehistoric

site of Mas D’Azil in France.


Tools and anthropomorphic figurines decorated with paint and

engravings may be also interpreted as depicting tattoos.


It has been

suggested that the complex incised decoration of clay figurines of the

Cucuteni-Trypillian culture in Romania (4,800–3,000 BC) represent

tattoos (or some other form of symbolic patterns drawn directly upon the

human body). Members of such early cultures would indeed paint their

body to express ideas and present their social affiliation and personal



Similarly, engraved or ochre painted body ornaments on clay

figurines from ancient Mesopotamia can be interpreted as some form of

body art.

The present exhibition showcases three ancient clay female figurines

from Eretz Israel which offer us a fascinating glimpse of the cultures

that inhabited the region. The first one which bears engraved marks was

found in Sha’ar Hagolan and belongs to the Yarmukian culture (Pottery