Photo credit: South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology

Tattoos are everywhere these days. It’s hard to find a pop star who doesn’t have even a little ink somewhere on their body. While the fashion for flaunting tattoos is new in our society, in the past, people were equally happy to show off their skin art. How do we know this about the ancients, who left little art and no writing? The best place to find tattoos is in the skin.

In Chile, hundreds of mummified bodies from the Chinchorro people have been discovered. One of these was a young man with a row of tattooed dots above his upper lip. Perhaps he was attempting to make up for a lack of facial hair. He died around 4,000 years ago.

The oldest-known tattoos come from Otzi the Iceman, a frozen body discovered in a melting glacier in the Alps. When Otzi froze to death 5,300 years ago, the cold preserved his 61 separate tattoos. These are mostly horizontal lines and are thought to have had ritual or therapeutic purposes, but they could also have been status symbols that would have made others envious.[4]

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