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Art of the body: body painting and tattoos

From mummies and painted depictions there is evidence that the body was in some cases decorated directly (rather than indirectly, with jewellery), either painted or tattooed. The bulk of the surviving evidence in Egypt indicates that the practice applied mostly to young women, perhaps professional dancers. The designs are generally geometrical motifs. The evidence from depictions might indicate either indelible marks (tattoos) or simpler and reversible marking of the skin by painting. Evidence from preserved bodies demonstrates that permanent marks were at least somtimes applied in Ancient Egypt.

See the following examples of faience figurines from Lahun (Late Middle Kingdom - about 1800 - 1700). Some painted features on these indicate jewellery, such as the strings of shells around the waist, but the geometrical marks along the legs must be painted or tattooed designs.

(click on the images to see a larger picture)

UC 16723, figurine of woman from Lahun UC 16724, figurine of woman from Lahun UC 16725, figurine of woman from Lahun UC 16726, figurine of woman from Lahun

Keimer 1948 (the fundamental study on tattoos in Ancient Egypt, in French)

Instruments perhaps used for tattooing (uncertain)
UC 7790




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