Infrared images reveal hidden tattoos on Egyptian female mummies

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Thanks to high-tech photography, researchers can now see previously hidden tattoos on ancient Egyptian mummies.

Infrared photography was used to help identify tattoos on seven mummified Egyptians dating as far back as around 1000 B.C. at a site known as Deir el-Medina, according to archaeologist Anne Austin of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who recently reported her findings at a meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

Prior to these discoveries, tattoos had only been found on six mummies over more than 100 years of research at ancient sites in Egypt.

"When I first saw [the tattoos] with infrared, I felt both the thrill of discovery and the magic of this new technology," Austin told Fox News via email. "We were able to identify dozens of tattoos in a previous mummy published in 2017, which showed imagery of religious symbols, floral motifs and important animals like the cows of the goddess Hathor."

Austin explained to Fox News that the more recent finds have established tattoos on other mummies, but they have not yet detected anything identifiable by symbol and place.

A researcher checks an ancient Egyptian mummy’s shoulder for tattoos with an infrared scanner.
(Courtesy of Anne Austin)

"It's highly likely that with more evidence, we'll find clearer patterns to the location and symbolism of these tattoos, but that will have to wait we've conducted more research," she said.

One expert told Science News that the new discoveries could help researchers determine how the markings were used.

“Everything about the new tattoo discoveries is surprising because so little is known about this ancient Egyptian practice,” Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein of Brigham Young University told Science News.

Experts in the U.K. found figurative tattoos on two ancient Egyptian mummies last year and published their findings in the Journal of Archaeological Science. The world's oldest figurative tattoos were found on Ötzi the Iceman, which is an approximately 5,300-year-old Neolithic mummy that was discovered in Italy in 1991.

Fox News' James Rogers contributed to this report.

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