When hikers in the Alps stumbled upon the mummy known as Ötzi the Iceman along the Austrian–Italian border in 1991, the body was so well preserved that they feared they’d discovered the corpse of a fellow mountaineer. Later research revealed he died around 3105 BCE. In the decades since, scientists have thoroughly studied Ötzi, who is preserved at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, Italy. Their research continues to reveal unknown details about ancient European life, including mapping Ötzi’s 61 tattoos last year with new non-invasive multispectral imaging.
Last month, an international team of scientists confirmed that the horizontal lines and x-shapes formed with charcoal embedded beneath his skin are the oldest-known examples of tattoos. Their research was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, and shared by Smithsonian Science News this week. Under the leadership of Aaron Deter-Wolf at the Tennessee Division of Archaeology, the team looked into a 5,500-year history of tattooing through mummies both naturally and deliberately preserved around the world.
Ötzi’s main contender for the oldest tattoos title was a Chinchorro mummy found in Chile in 1983, who has a delicate mustache of dots tattooed on his upper lip. Radiocarbon data had previously indicated this mummy was older than the famous Iceman, and was poised to posthumously claim Ötzi’s tattoo throne. However, as the researchers state, comparisons of the radiocarbon dates “clearly identify Ötzi as the oldest tattooed human remains discovered to date, antedating the Chinchorro mummy Mo-1 T28 C22 by at least 500 years. Previous scholarly misidentifications of the Chilean specimen as the oldest tattooed remains appear to be the result of misreading the radiocarbon data.”
Kristina Killgrove at Forbes pointed out that artistic depictions of people with tattoos, as well as tools used in tattooing, indicate tattooing long predates the Iceman. So although Ötzi keeps his oldest tattoo title for now, it’s likely that a sinewy rival will emerge from the glaciers, bogs, deserts, or another of the world’s mummy-ripe environments. What’s interesting, beyond the date comparison, is that the two mummies show tattooing evolving independently in different parts of the globe, and for different purposes. While the Chinchorro mummy’s dot-mustache seems ornamental, the placement of Ötzi’s tattoos along his degenerating joints and spine suggest a medicinal purpose. And both examples confirm that tattooing is a historical part of our visual culture, with purposes as diverse as the individuals who practiced this body modification.
Artist Minouk Lim wants to offer a very different perspective on how one might deal with a grim history whose effects continue to be felt in the present.
This week: Should Washington have a national memorial for gun violence? Have cats used us to take over the world? What is Cluttercore? And more.
Organizers, artists, and land practitioners are holding public events at Iglesias Garden in a hub space supported by the Climate Justice Initiative, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia.
The artist’s style blends aesthetic and cultural elements from Ghana, London, and New York’s graffiti scenes.
Workers told Hyperallergic that they were tired of meager pay and a lack of job security.
Jo Sandman / TRACES opens with a reception for the artist on June 3 at Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
Authorities say Jean-Luc Martinez helped facilitate the Louvre’s purchase of objects illegally pillaged during the Arab Spring.
The suspects attempted to take a Basquiat artwork valued at $45,000 from Taglialatella Galleries but instead made off with a half-empty bottle of whiskey.
Funding MFAs and all full-time graduate degrees, the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans supports immigrants and the children of immigrants in the US.
From music and architecture to comedy and horror, these films showcase Ukrainian culture and its long-held ethos of resistance.
The artists showcased in Archival Intimacies examine the colonial trauma’s impact on Asian Americans and search for ways to overcome it.
Eiffel inadvertently paints its protagonist not as a great man worthy of scrutiny or praise, but as the Elon Musk of his day.