Ancient Tattoos

acupuncture points
Image by run dorkas run via Flickr

I was intrigued to read the following article in New ScientistAncient tattoos linked to healing ritual”.

This article was about analysis which had been done on the tattoos preserved on a Peruvian mummy. This Peruvian mummy has been dated as about 1000-year-old, and is of a forty-something Peruvian woman. This contained two interesting medical discoveries. These were that:

  • the woman had suffered from tuberculosis. The diagnosis of TB in the “New World”, prior to the arrival of Europeans, lets the European discoverers “off the hook” for one  disease which could have devastated the populations of the New World.
  • the woman had, what appears to be two different types of tattoos. Some of the tattoos appeared to be medicinal, and others could have been for ritual purposes. The medicinal tattoos appear to be close to Chinese Acupuncture Points.

This correlation between the  tattoos and Chinese Acupuncture points, reminded me of the frozen man from the Swiss Alps and his tattoos (World’s oldest tattoos were made of soot ).  Again, here analysis of the tattoos location indicated that there could be for medicinal purposes, and that tattoos appeared to align with Chinese Acupuncture points.

These two sets of discoveries leave me wondering about a number of things. Which include:

  • How common were  tattoos in ancient cultures?
  • Do Egyptian mummies have tattoos? If they do what forms do they take?
  • Did any of the ancient bodies found in peat bogs in the UK, and Ireland, have tattoos?
  • When did Chinese acupuncture begin? I’m sure there is a long history in Chinese recorded history, but was the just the codification of something which has had a much longer history.

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  1. #1 by Code Snippets on October 19, 2010 - 5:19 pm

    Being completely honest, I came here looking at programming related things.. But this post piqued my curiousity.. I’m an amateur “ancient cultures” nut and found this post pretty intriguing.. I remember watching a documentary or somesuch on that frozen fella in the alps.. But (until now) had not heard about the peruvian lady.. Interesting correlations.. especially when acupuncture comes into play.. did these cultures develop this knowledge independantly? sure.. its possible.. but some type of “common denominator” seems much cooler to ponder upon. =]

    Good stuff. Keep up the great work.. feel free to check out our code snippets repository as well 😉 (Also, while typing this, I noticed the right side of your blog here has a bit of a mis spelling.. “Serach within this blog”.. just pointing it out!)

    • #2 by aussiecraig on October 19, 2010 - 6:50 pm

      Thanks for the comments.
      Thanks also, I’ll fix up that typo.
      On the question of a common denominator between the Peruvian and the Swiss Alps man. There are couple of plausible explanations which range from:

      • The human body. Sounds a bit too obvious, but a common denominator none the less. There has been medical research into acupuncture, and acupressure, points and they are common nerve nexus points (I should go and dig up some references for this, but that’s my recollection). So, if you go poking parts of the human body for long enough, you will find these nerve nexus points sometime.
      • The Peruvians probably came to South America across the land bridge between Asia and the Americas, so some “cultural knowledge” of acupressure may have come across as well.
      • The Swiss man was probably a Celt, or had been in contact with Celts. There is evidence that the Celts came to Europe from the Indian Subcontinent (the Indus Valley – again if recollection serves correct. Linkages must (my hypothesis) have existed between there and other parts of Asia.

      It’s fascinating to speculate about. But, I’m not sure what evidence could be found to support any theory. Much of the evidence is probably under the seas today. Many of these travels were undertaken during the last ice age, when sea levels were much lower.

      • #3 by aussiecraig on October 19, 2010 - 7:03 pm

        PS: I should have asked. “Did you find the code bit’s you were looking for?”

        If not, post another comment with what you were looking for. If I’ve something on the topic “stacked away in my code collection”, I could post something on the topic (pretty quickly – I hope).


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