Examples of tattoos on bodies, (more specifically, female bodies) have been found on female mummies dating from 2000 B.C. But what purpose did these tattoos serve, due to the fact that they were seemingly found only on women?

Male excavators of these mummies have traditionally (in a very ethnocentric way) written off these tattooed women as being women of- and I quote- "dubious status" or as "dancing girls." These judgments were made regardless of the mummies location when found. These mummies were buried at Deir el-Bahari, which is an area associated with burials of royals or the upper echelon of Ancient Egyptian society. In addition, we know that at least one of the women found there, originally written off as a high-ranking royal concubine, was actually the Priestess Amunet, who worshiped the Goddess Hathor. This was revealed by reading her burial inscriptions, which none of the excavators had bothered to do previously.

The tattoos on these women were found primarily on their bellies, thighs, and breasts. Specific types of designs, like a net-like cluster of dots on the abdomen, were also present. The theory that the tattoos on the ancient mummies were "the mark of the whore" or provided protection against Sexually Transmitted Infections, permeated the academic world for quite some time.

A new theory behind these tattoos has come to light in recent years. This new theory, penned by Cate Lineberry, states that tattoos were used as permanent amulets during the arduous periods of pregnancy and birth. Lineberry also argues that this explains why that tattoos are a female custom. Lineberry also suggests that the tattoo artists themselves would be older women, who would pass down the protective markings from generation to generation.

Although tattoos have been present in other ancient cultures, and have been found on preserved bodies older than these Egyptian Mummies, the fact that tattooing was reserved for only women in Egypt is pretty interesting. It's also disheartening that these women were not given the respect they deserved from early excavators-and even if they were sex workers, so what?

*Note-the image at the beginning of this post is of Sekhmet. Of all of the Goddess in the Ancient Egyptian pantheon, she's my personal favorite.