Elaborately tattooed mummy brings archeologists to tears

A Quebec researcher is celebrating the discovery of an intricate collection of tattoos found on the mummified body of a woman who lived more than 3,300 years ago. The markings are the first on a mummy from dynastic Egypt to show actual objects.

Only about 12 tattooed mummies have been found to date, with simple tattoos made out of lines and dots

The use of modern imaging software and infrared scanners allowed researchers to find more than 30 tattoos on this 3,300-year-old-mummy. (Radio-Canada)

A Quebec researcher is celebrating the discovery of an intricate collection of tattoos found on the mummified body of a woman who lived more than 3,300 years ago.

The markings are the first on a mummy from dynastic Egypt to show actual objects, including lotus blossoms on the mummy's hips and cows on her arm, the scientific journal Nature reported.

Cédric Gobeil has been leading a team of experts in Egypt since 2013. They announced the discovery in April. 

When Gobeil looked at the dark spots on the mummy, he was shocked by what he saw.

"In that first second I was so excited that I cried," Gobeil told CBC's Quebec AM.

"It's so striking. You don't search for that and once you see it you can't even imagine."

According to Gobeil, about a dozen other mummies have been found with tattoos of simple shapes, usually around the belly, which would be thought to offer magical protection during pregnancy.

None of those more common tattoos appear on this mummy. More than 30 images of animals appear on the torso and arms.

The mummy's head and legs are missing, but researchers have located tattoos on these areas of the body. (Radio-Canada)

The researchers believe the mummy is of a woman between the ages of 24 and 35 years old who may have been a priestess to the Egyptian goddess Hathor.

Though Hathor is the goddess of many things, Gobeil said, her connection to the dead is what links her with this mummy.

Almost overlooked

The black markings on the mummy's body were nearly disregarded as residue from the mummification process.

Archaeologist and Egyptologist Cédric Gobeil, who is from Charlesbourg, Que., has been leading an archaeological mission in Egypt since 2013. (Radio-Canada)
Thanks to modern imaging software, Gobeil said his team was able to unshrink and extend the mummy's skin, which is when they saw the striking tattoos.

As they scanned the body with an infrared camera, they even found tattoos which weren't visible to the naked eye.

"Some parts of the body are so dark and covered in embalming product that it's impossible to see the skin," Gobeil said. "So using an infrared camera, it sees through layers and sees skin as it was."

Gobeil added that this discovery dispels the idea Egyptologists previously had about priestesses being painted with animal imagery, not tattooed.

The tattoos found on this mummy are unique because there are a lot of snakes, other animals and symbols which when taken together, Gobeil said, link to the goddess Hathor. (Radio-Canada)

Inside some tombs there are walls with depictions of women covered in similar markings to the ones this mummy has, and Gobeil says that this discovery proves they are depictions of tattooed Egyptians.

"Now we have clear proof,"  he said. 

With files from Quebec AM and Radio-Canada