Mapping 61 Ancient Tattoos on a 5,300-Year-Old Mummy

by Rachel Baker on February 5, 2015

I suspect the things we can figure out about our ancient ancestors will be incredibly cool the more our technology advances. This is an example of the coolness of our technology and what we have been able to learn.

Read the Article: Mapping 61 Ancient Tattoos on a 5,300-Year-Old Mummy

Wearing a surgical mask and gown over a thick winter jacket, Marcello Melis stood at a glass operating table in a tiny ice chamber and examination room in Italy’s South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology. His patient was a 5,300-year-old mummy nicknamed “Ötzi the Iceman.” And though Melis wanted to look beneath Ötzi’s caramel-colored skin, he held neither a scalpel nor forceps in his gloved hands. Rather, the tool for this procedure was a modified Nikon camera.

Ötzi is legendary in science circles. Since finding the frozen mummy in the Italian Alps in 1991, researchers have conducted numerous tests to piece together his ancient tale. Genomic sequencing suggests that he had brown eyes, and came from Central Europe, as well as was lactose intolerant and predisposed for coronary heart disease. Analysis of a shoulder wound indicated he was fatally shot with an arrow that pierced an artery. And a CT scan showed he also suffered a hard blow to the head. Radiolab did a whole show about the murder mystery of Ötzi’s demise. But what fascinated Melis and his colleagues most were the faded, yet still visible black tattoos that covered the mummy’s wrists, ankles, and lower back.

The thing is: Researchers never knew how many tattoos Ötzi had, or why exactly he was inked in the first place. They’d previously counted somewhere between 47 and 55 black simple charcoal lines rubbed into the iceman’s skin, mostly around his joints. Some scientists believe that the tattoos were made using a sharp bone tool in an attempt to alleviate pain in these areas, perhaps an early form of acupuncture.

But what if Ötzi’s tattoos were there for another reason—and what if there were more of them?

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter.

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