Embodying the Goddess: Tattooing and the Cult of Hathor in Ancient Egypt
While tattooing is an increasingly popular topic, it is rarely discussed in the past owing to the infrequent identification of tattoos in human remains. This is particularly true in dynastic Egypt, where physical evidence of tattooing was limited to a set of three female Middle Kingdom mummies from Deir el-Bahri with Nubian geometric patterns placed on their arms and abdomens. During the 2014-2015 mission of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale at Deir el-Medina, however, our team identified the mummy of a woman with over thirty separate, figural tattoos placed along her arms, neck, and shoulders. These tattoos offer our only evidence of Pharaonic tattooing to date and provide us an unusual glimpse into the world of tattooing and worship in daily life.
This talk reviews the significance of this tattooed mummy from Deir el-Medina through a systematic analysis of the placement, orientation, order, and symbolism of her tattoos. These tattoos created a permanent and public association of this woman with worship of the goddess Hathor, even allowing her body to be used as a potential vehicle for the goddess herself through the repeated motif of the divine Wadjet eyes. This mummy therefore not only offers a unique and significant contribution to our understanding of the practice of tattooing in ancient Egypt, but also the potential roles of women in religious worship in ancient Egypt.