Tattooed Mummies Link Tattoo Artists With Their Ancestors


In the 1970s, hunters found eight 500-year-old bodies preserved by the Arctic climate near Qilakitsoq, an abandoned Inuit settlement in northwest Greenland. Later, when scientists photographed the mummies with infrared film, they made an intriguing discovery: Five out of six women had tattoos of delicate lines, dots, and belts on their faces.

For thousands of years, tattoos were more than just body adornment for Eskimos and other Indigenous cultures. They served as symbols of belonging, coming-of-age rituals, channeled spiritual beliefs, or endowed powers that could be invoked while giving birth or hunting. Beginning in the 17th century, however, missionaries and colonists intent on “civilizing” Indigenous peoples stopped tattooing in all but the most remote communities.

The practice disappeared so completely in Greenland that Maya Sialuk Jacobsen, who spent her childhood there, worked as a Western-style tattooist for ten years before realizing that her Inuit ancestors were also tattooists, although of a very different nature.

Today, Ms. Sialuk Jacobsen uses historical documents, artifacts, and Qilakitsoq mummies – some of which are now on display at the museum. Greenland National Museum — for researching traditional Inuit tattoo designs. She then hand-sews or sews patterns onto the faces and bodies of Inuit women and sometimes men, helping them connect with their ancestors and reclaim some of their culture.

“I take great pride in getting a tattoo on a woman,” he said. “It will be like looking in a mirror when you meet your ancestors in the afterlife.”

Without the physical records left by ancient tattoos, modern practitioners like Ms. Sialuk Jacobsen would have had little evidence to guide their work. Fortunately, as more Indigenous tattooists around the world revive lost traditions, a small group of archaeologists are tracing the tattoo through time and space, uncovering new examples of its role in historical and prehistoric societies. Together, scientists and artists show that the urge to ink our bodies is deeply rooted in the human psyche, spanning the world and speaking for centuries.

Until recently, Western archaeologists largely ignored the tattoo. Because of these scientists’ indifference, tools for tapping, poking, sewing, or cutting through human skin were cataloged as sewing needles or awls, while tattooed mummies were “considered more fascinating objects than scientific specimens,” Aaron Deter-Wolf said. He is a prehistoric archaeologist and a leading researcher in tattoo archeology in the Tennessee Department of Archeology.

Even a 5300-year-old corpse Iceman Ötzi Deter-Wolf said that although he carried visible tattoos in the Italian Alps in 1991, some reports at the time suggested that the markings were proof that Ötzi was “possibly a criminal”. “It was very one-sided.”

But as tattooing became more common in Western culture, Mr. Deter-Wolf and other scholars began examining preserved tattoos and artifacts for insights into how people in the past lived and what they believed.

one 2019 investigation On Ötzi’s 61 tattoos, for example, he paints a picture of life in Copper Age Europe. The dots and lines on the mummy’s skin correspond to common acupuncture points, suggesting that people had an enhanced understanding of the human body and may have used tattoos to relieve physical ailments such as joint pain. Anne Austin, an archaeologist at the University of Missouri-St in Egypt. found Louis dozens of tattoos on female mummies, including hieroglyphs suggesting the tattoos were associated with goddess worship and healing. This interpretation challenges the theories of 20th-century male scholars that female tattoos were merely erotic decorations or reserved for prostitutes.

Scientific research on tattooed mummies also inspires practitioners such as Elle Festin, a California-based tattoo artist of Philippine heritage. As the co-founder of the Sign of the Four Waves, a global community Made up of nearly 500 tattooed members of the Philippine diaspora, Mr. Festin has spent more than two decades studying Philippine tribal tattoos and using them to help those living outside the Philippines reconnect with their homeland. One of his sources “fire mummies” — people of the Ibaloi and Kankanaey tribes, whose heavily tattooed bodies were protected centuries ago by the slow-burning fire.

If the clients come from a tribe that makes fire mummies, Mr. Festin will use the mummy tattoos as a framework to design his own tattoos. (He and other tattooists say that only people with ancestral ties to a culture should get tattoos of that culture.) 20 people have been tattooed with fire mummy so far.

For other clients, Mr. Festin is adapting more creative, age-old patterns to modern lives. “I would put a mountain below, a frigate bird on top, and lightning and wind patterns around it,” he says of a pilot.

Yet while mummies provide the most definitive evidence of how and where people in the past painted their bodies, they are relatively rare in the archaeological record. More common—and therefore more useful to scientists following the tattoo’s footprint—are artifacts such as tattoo needles made of bone, bark, cactus spines, or other materials.

Archaeologists like Mr. Deter-Wolf copy tools to show that such tools are used for tattooing rather than sewing leather or clothing, they use them to tattoo pigskin or their own bodies, then examine the replicas under high-powered microscopes. . If the tiny wear patterns from repeated puncturing of the skin match those on the original tools, archaeologists say. can conclude that the original works were really used for tattooing.

Through such painstaking experiments, Mr. Deter-Wolf and colleagues push back the timeline of tattooing in North America. In 2019, Mr. Deter-Wolf announced that the ancestors of the modern Puebloan people were in BC. tattoo with cactus spines About 2,000 years ago, in what is now the American Southwest. This year, he published a finding It shows that about 3,500 years ago in what is now Tennessee, people tattooed with needles made from turkey bones.

Dion Kaszas, a Hungarian, Métis and Nlaka’pamux tattoo practitioner and scholar in Nova Scotia, is learning how to create her own tattoo. bone tattoo needles From Mr. Deter-Wolf and Keone Nunes, a Hawaiian tattoo artist. His goal, he said, “is to go back to that ancestral technology; to feel what our ancestors felt.” Since few examples of the Nlaka’pamux tattoo remain, Mr. Kaszas uses designs from baskets, pottery, clothing and rock art. Research from other cultures shows that tattoo designs often mimic patterns on other works.

For Mr Kaszas and others, tattooing is not a way to revive an Indigenous language that has been nearly silenced by colonialism. It also has the power to heal the wounds of the past and strengthen Indigenous communities for the future.

“The job our tattoos do to heal us is a different job than the one our ancestors used them for,” said Mr. Kaszas. “It’s a kind of medicine for people to look at their arms and realize that they are connected to a family, a community, a world.”

While people from countless cultures have reclaimed their tattoo heritage over the past two decades, there are many others that have been completely obscured by colonization and assimilation. As scientists place more emphasis on tattooing, their work may bring to light more lost traditions.

Mr. Deter-Wolf hopes archaeologists in other parts of the world will begin to identify tattoo artifacts using the methodology he and other North American scientists have pioneered, drawing the footprint further back. Also a online, open source database tattooed mummies aimed at correcting popular misinformation and illustrating the geographic spread of such specimens. The list includes mummies from 70 archaeological sites in 15 countries, including Sudan, Peru, Egypt, Russia and China, but Mr Deter-Wolf expects it to grow as infrared imaging and other technologies reveal more inky skin on existing mummies.

Back in Greenland, Ms. Sialuk Jacobsen hopes the Qilakitsoq mummies also have more secrets to uncover. He encourages museum directors to examine other parts of mummies’ bodies, such as their thighs, with infrared imaging. Inuit women in other parts of the Arctic receive thigh tattoos as part of their birth rituals, but while historical drawings show thigh tattoos on Greenlandic women, there is no concrete evidence yet.

If Qilakitsoq mummies have thigh tattoos, Ms. Sialuk Jacobsen may one day copy these patterns to women in the Qilakitsoq region and draw a line between past and future generations.

“Our tattoos are so selfless,” he said. Not just for the woman who bought them, but for her grandmothers, her children, and her entire community.


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *