Christian tattoo found on medieval Sudanese mummy

Published 01 April 2014  |  

A 1,300-year-old mummified Sudanese woman was found to have a tattoo bearing the name of the Archangel Michael  on her inner thigh.

The woman's well preserved corpse was found on the banks of the Nile in northern Sudan in 2005, but these new discoveries were made during recent CAT scans in preparation for the British Museum's upcoming exhibition 'Ancient Lives: New Discoveries', sponsored by the Swiss Banking group, Julius Baer and South Korean technology firm, Samsung.

The image is a form of the Greek letters that spell Michael 'M I X A H A', arranged into a typographic picture.

Although the tattoo appears to be in a rather intimate place, it is not clear if it would have been visible as archaeologists are unclear about the clothing practices of Christian communities on the Nile in 700AD.

"This is truly a unique and remarkable find," said Daniel Antoine, the curator of physical anthropology at the British Museum, speaking to The Telegraph.

"We have found other examples of the monogram, but never in the form of a tattoo. We have engravings, and graffiti on some of the medieval churches, from that part of the Nile Valley.

"She is the first evidence of a tattoo from this period. This is a very rare find."

Explaining why a woman from this place and this time might have chosen to get such a tattoo, Mr Antoine said: "St Michael was the patron saint of medieval Sudan."

The woman was probably between 20 and 35 years of age when she died, and would have been 5ft 2". She had been wrapped in linen and woollen cloths. It is thought that the exceptionally dry heat allowed her body to be naturally preserved.

Experts speculate that she may have chosen the tattoo as a form of protection.

Fordham University theology professor Maureen Tilley explained to Fox News: "Placing the name on the inner thigh, as with this mummy, may have had some meaning for the hopes of childbirth or protection against sexual violation, as in 'This body is claimed and protected'.

"Michael is an obvious identity for a tattoo, as this is the most powerful of angels."

Explaining the intent and importance of the British museum's new exhibition, John Taylor, head curator in the Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum said to The Telegraph: "We want to promote the idea these are not objects but real human beings. We want to capture the humanity of these people."

The new exhibition will run from May 22 until 30 November.

Reprints

More News in UK