9. Religious Tattoos
Today, many people will get tattoos for a variety of reasons: to remember a loved one, to express uniqueness, or to show off their interests. But a mummy found in the village of Deir el-Medina shows what the ancient Egyptians may have used them for. Along with other mummies with visible tattoos, the Deir el-Medina mummy sheds light on a possible ancient religious practice.
The Deir el-Medina mummy is a headless, limbless torso that belonged to a woman from between 1300 and 1070 BC who lived in an artisanal village near the Valley of the Kings. Using infrared lights, 30 identifiable tattoos were found on her.
What’s unique about her is that the tattoos appear to have been put on her during her lifetime rather than after death for a religious ritual. She also has the first symbols that have significance rather than abstract designs.
These symbolic designs range from the so-called Wadjet eyes on her neck, shoulders, and back (which represent divine watching from every angle) to cows related to the powerful god Hathor. Other symbols were found on her neck and what remained of her arms. Most likely, they were also related to Hathor and were supposed to be a sort of boost for singing and playing music.
When the discovery of the tops was made, many Egyptologists were stunned because no tattoos of the sort had been found before. Three similar mummies were found, and their markings were most likely for women who wanted to express their religious piety. To get the tattoos would have been test enough because the method used was probably excruciatingly painful.