Tattoos of the Egyptian World
Tattoos are believed to originate during the predynastic and archaic periods of Egypt, around 4000 BCE. The earliest recordings are female figurines with designs engraved on them. Many people believe that these engravings are tattoos, whereas skeptics believe that they are simply the statuette's clothes.
The first indisputable evidence is dated during the six dynasty, and it is a mummy named "Amunet", a priestess of the fertility goddess Hathor. Amunet's life is dated at 4160 BCE.
Amunet has circular patterns around her naval, and parallel lines on her arms and thighs. Robert Bianchi, a renowned Egyptian scholar, says that the tattoos have an "undeniably carnal overtone".
The second piece of evidence is another Egyptian mummy, believed to be a female dancer, that was found with diamond patterns along her arms and chest, along with having scarification on her lower abdomen.
The third piece of evidence is a set of statuettes labeled the "Brides of Death". These statuettes have impressions that are very similar to those of Amunet and the dancer. They were placed in the tomb with Egyptian males in order to arouse the sexual instincts of the deceased and ensure the rebirth of Osiris, the god of resurrection.
Hathor is the goddess of fertility and sexual appeal. The placement of Amunet's tattoos lead scholars to believe that she was honoring this goddess. The scarification on the dancer symbolizes eroticism, and it is for this reason that it is believed that she was also honoring Hathor. The tattoos on these two mummies and the set of statuettes are also believed to represent the female's desire and ability to reproduce. This combined with the obvious erotic nature of the tattoos lead scholars to believe that they are in honor of Hathor.
It is believed that the Egyptians used clay and sharp bone needles to make tattoos.
Robert Bianchi believes that many Egyptologists ignored these artifacts because the eroticism of the tattoos represent the social attitude of the time, which some Egyptians may be embarrassed of.
Many scholars attribute the introduction of tattoos to the Nubians, during the fourth century BCE, whose empire ranged from Aswan to Khartoum. Many adolescent and adult female mummies have been found in the Nubian site of Ashka that have tattoos very similar to those of Amunet.
Tattooing became entrenched in the Egyptian society during the New Kingdom, which started 1550 BCE. At this time, tattoos moved away from the dots and dashes that honored Hathor to abstract representations that represented the god Bes. Bes is the Egyptian god of carnal love, and is considered "the fighting deity". He is normally depicted as a dwarf with an incredibly ugly face.
This further exemplifies the Egyptian's erotic attitude because these tattoos were found on the thighs of mummies who used to be musicians or dancers. I believe that dancers wore these tattoos because they had to be erotic and sensual while they danced, and they looked to Bes for that inspiration. I believe that musicians honored him because they relay their emotions through their music,, especially those of love and carnal desire.
Some scholars believe that tattooing in ancient Egypt was reserved solely for followers of the carnal goddesses.
To date, only Egyptian females have been discovered with tattoos. However, some people do not believe that only the women were tattooed because many pictures have been found of males with tattoos. All the evidence that has been collected to date though supports the notion that only females were tattooed.
In addition to tattoos in honor of Hathor and Bes, many mummies have been discovered that have tattoos representing sun worship. Egyptian soldiers also had tattoos paying homage to Neith, the fierce god who led troops into battle.
Slaves and prisoners of war were also tattooed, but in the form of being branded.