Identifying the Practice of Tattooing in Ancient Egypt
By G. J. Tassie
Institute of Archaeology, UCL
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Tattooing was practised by many ancient societies, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. The second earliest physical evidence of tattooing in the world was found in Egypt (Hanslabjoch ice man being the oldest), and the longest history of tattooing in the world, starting with the first physical evidence in the Middle Kingdom, continuing through the Coptic, Islamic and modern eras, lasting for a span of 4,000 years. Strangely there is almost no mention of tattooing in the ancient Egyptian written records, and unlike many ancient societies it was a custom almost exclusively practised by women. It has been suggested that tattooing was practised in the Predynastic Period as evidenced by figurines with geometric designs on them, however, no physical evidence has yet been found at this early period. At Kafr Hassan Dawood, a Predynastic to Early Dynastic site in the East delta, Egypt, five copper rods were found: could this be physical proof of the custom of early tattooing?