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Tattoos: Between the Tribal and the Universal

used to relieve stress, by inserting medicinal plants into the body through

the skin, thereby helping to restore balance and harmony to the body.

Deter-Wolf mentions the mummified remains of a tattooed man,

dating back to 3,563-1,972 cal BC, who belonged to the Chinchorro culture

in northern Chile and southern Peru. This was an adult man with a

mustache-like dotted line tattooed above his upper lip.


Other tattooed

mummies, belonging to various cultures, such as the Chimú, Moche, and

Tiwanaku cultures,


were discovered throughout South America.

The remains of humans and tools from ancient cultures which

practiced body tattooing, were also discovered in all the Arctic Circle and

its surroundings, including Alaska, St. Lawrence Island,


Greenland, and

the Altai Mountains in Siberia.


Material and iconographic evidence of tattoos were found in Egypt

and Nubia. These findings belong to a period that spans across at least

four thousand years (from the 4


millennium BC onwards) – making it

the longest known tattooing history so far.


The evidence indicates that

women were mainly the ones to tattoo their body as part of initiation and

rites of passage rituals following physiological changes. The tattoos were

used to enhance the women’s fertility, as well as in birth rituals. Another

example of ancient remains of a human tattooed body is the “Amunet

mummy” from Deir el-Bahari in Egypt, which dates back to the Middle

Kingdom Period (2040-1640 BC). A fine wooden coffin was found holding

the remains of a tattooed woman, believed to be a priestess of the Egyptian

goddess Hathor –


. The body was tattooed with scattered dots

and lines; under her navel is an elliptical form composed of similar dots

and lines. Another female mummy, which was identified as a dancer, was

tattooed with the shape of a rhombus also composed of a sequence of dots

and lines.

Ancient Egyptian female figurines fashioned from clay or faience,

dating back to the 4th millennium BC, bear body decorations, which

probably represents tattoos. During the Middle Kingdom Period, small

figurines made of blue faience, buried with the dead and known as the

“brides of the dead,” were adorned with patterns identical to those seen in