Researchers Find Intricate Tattoos on a 3,000-Year-Old Egyptian Woman

A Stanford archaeologist says they had religious and symbolic purposes.

— -- Researchers at Stanford University have found intricately designed body art on the well-preserved remains of a 3,000-year-old woman's body from Ancient Egypt.

The human remains were from Deir el-Medina, the village of artisans who built the tombs of the pharaoh during Egypt's New Kingdom (1550 to 1070 B.C.E.), Anne Austin, an archaeologist at Stanford University, told ABC News.

"Though the site was excavated nearly a century ago, the human remains were never studied. In 2014, I identified the mummy of a woman covered in tattoos; however, it wasn't until this year when we did infrared photography and we were able to identify all of the tattoos on her shoulders, neck, arms, and back."

The woman, who Austin said lived in the Ramesside period, more than 3,000 years ago, is covered with tattoos that Austin said have religious meanings.

"The tattoos include important religious imagery like the cows of the goddess Hathor and Wadjet eyes -- a divine protective eye in ancient Egypt. The placement in the religious iconography of the tattoos suggests that they had a deeply symbolic religious purpose."

This woman is one of three tattooed mummies buried in Egyptian cemeteries, Austin said, although it is likely that more have yet to be discovered. The tattoo artistry for this one is unique, however, as it is the first to have Egyptian figures while the others had geometric tattoos.

Austin told ABC News it is not know what tools or ink Ancient Egyptian tattoo artists used.

The tattoos may also indicate the advanced roles of women in Ancient Egypt. "This mummy not only documents an Egyptian tradition of tattooing that we have not yet seen before, but the religious symbolism of the tattoos reveal important ways that women could participate in religion in this time period in ancient Egypt."