Ancient Tattooed Mummies Reveal ‘Magical’ Symbols Jabbed Into Skin Using Metal Rods, Cactus Spines And Soot

As it sits just under the skin, body art is often lost as a corpse rots away, but in rare cases it remains perfectly preserved several millennia after death.

These tattooed mummies each give us a unique insight into ancient culture and art. We’ve summed up some of the best below.

Geometric ink on Ötzi the Iceman

A frozen man found mummified in a glacier in the Alps in 1991 has more than 60 tattoos inked 5,300 years ago.

He is near-perfectly preserved, with much of his skin, clothes and hunting gear still intact.

Since the discovery, Ötzi the Iceman has been examined by multiple teams of scientists, with new chest tattoos among the more recent discoveries.

Scientists have previously organised these tatts into 19 different groups, each of which form a set of horizontal or vertical lines.

To make the Neolithic ink, coal dust was rubbed into small wounds similar to the insertion of acupuncture needles.

This would have been a time-consuming practice requiring considerable skill, according to researchers.

Tattoos on the arm of the Lady of Cao

Spiders and mythical beasts printed on ancient sorceress The Lady of Cao
One Moche woman had spiders, snakes, catfish, crabs and even mythical beasts inked on her skin some 1,600 years ago.

Known as the Lady of Cao, scientists found her mummified corpse in El Brujo, Peru.

She was surrounded by gold ornaments and symbols of power that led scientists to believe she was a woman of high status, possibly a sorceress.

The tattoos were achieved using charcoal pigment prodded beneath the skin with a sharp needle or cactus spine.The Lady of Cao died in her twenties around 450 AD and ruled over a desert valley in ancient Peru.


Her elaborately tattooed body was wrapped in 20 layers of fabric and buried with weapons and gold trinkets.

Last year, experts suggested the tattoos may have been inscribed as a primitive form of acupuncture.

They cluster around joints and the lower back – where Ötzi suffered from degeneration.

The Neolithic hunter was 40 or 50 years old when he died, and would have walked dozens of miles on a near-daily basis.

Wild bull tattoo on Egyptian mummy Gebelein Man A
Some of the world’s oldest tattoos are found on the arm of a 5,000-year-old Egyptian mummy on display at the British Museum.

Gebelein Man A died when he was brutally stabbed in the neck sometime between 3341 and 3017 BC.

CT scans last year revealed that a sooty smudge visible on his arm was overlapping designs of a wild bull – a symbol of virility – and a horned barbary sheep.

Gebelein Man A has the oldest known tattoo of real subjects such as animals.

Daniel Antoine, the British Museum’s curator of physical anthropology, said: “We are very confident that this is tattooing and not painted or decorated.

“It would have been carried out with some type of needle made from bone or copper.

“Incredibly, at over 5,000 years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.”

It is also the first evidence that Ancient Egyptian men were tattooed as well as women.

Princess Ukok died in Siberia some 2,500 years ago. Pictured is her corpse, with tattoos clearly visible down her arm.

Ancient warrior Princess Ukok’s animal tattoos

The ancient corpse of a pot-smoking princess found in Siberia boasts what could be the most well-preserved tattoos ever found.

The ancient royal has been dubbed Princess Ukok, which is the name of the frozen plateau where her body was discovered.

She was a Scythian – an ancient group known for their love of tatts – who died of breast cancer around 2,500 years ago.

Her heavily inked body was buried alongside six horses, coriander seeds and a small pouch of cannabis, indicating her royal status.

The Princess had a unique sense of style, sporting a shaved head and inked images of animals.

Ukok is thought to have ruled a kingdom in the Altai Mountains, a remote area where the borders of modern day Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan now meet.

Lunar goddess tatts on the Beauty of Loulan

The Beauty of Loulan was found perfectly preserved in China’s Tarim Basin when she died 3,800 years ago.

The woman’s face is so well preserved from the arid, salty climate that her delicate features remain intact even today.

Her remains sport smooth skin, full lips, dark eyelashes, and a host of tattoos.

They include moons and ovals tattooed on her face.

They suggest Goddess worship in many cultures and must have been important to her to display them so prominently.

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