This isn’t your mother’s mummy. This mysterious tattooed body, known as the Ukok Princess, is beginning to reveal information about her culture in Siberia during 6th century BCE. Siberian scientist Natalia Polosmak found the remains of the princess in 1993, along with an entourage of six saddled horses and two male warriors during an archeological expedition.
But hold up. She has two full sleeves of tattoos, recently reconstructed as illustrations in celebration of the princess' return to Siberia after 19 years in Novosibirsk, Russia. It is startling to both outside observers and scientific professionals how similar the tattoos are to those seen on modern day rebels. Experts say the tattoos were applied with paint and then pierced with a needle and rubbed with a mixture of soot and fat to gain their permanence.
“It is a phenomenal level of tattoo art. Incredible.” Remarks Dr. Polosmak, a researcher currently studying the mummy princess.
The princess is believed to have lived only into her mid-twenties, preserved for several millennia in the Siberian permafrost. Scientists believe that the tattoos were markings of personal identification, not unlike a way cooler (and more painful) drivers license or passport. It is likely the the mummy adorned in such intricate tattoos to help her relatives find her in the afterlife. It is also believed that the more tattoos a person donned, the longer they lived and the higher their position in the system.
Experts say that the one place that people are most likely to place their tattoo is the left shoulder: “I can assume so, because all the mummies we found with just one tattoo had it on their left shoulders. And nowadays this is the same place where people try to put the tattoos on, thousands of years on.”
These tattoos of yesteryear sit in stark in contrast to the "low class bad-ass" stigma surrounding tattoos today. These days, some women still struggle to find work when covered in ink (and also constantly brave the question "Won't that show in your wedding photos?"). In western cultures, tattoos started as a way for sailors and pirates to mark themselves, which eventually lead to the rise of tattoos in prisons, and the association with “trouble makers.” However, the past 50 years have brought tattooing into the mainstream, and being inked is seen more as fashion statement.
“I think we have not moved far from Pazyryks in how the tattoos are made. It is still about a craving to make yourself as beautiful as possible” said Dr. Polosmak.
The next time you get judged for your tattoos, tell that loser you’re reborn Pazyryk royalty, and walk away like the proud prince or princess that you are!
Images Courtesy of Elena Shumakova, Institute of Archeology and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Science and Carolin Loosen by Stefan Khoo