Primordial Tattoos

In 1993, 9 bodies were excavated from a frozen plateau in Siberia. The first was a 25 year old woman, known as the Ukok Princess. On either side of her were two warriors to guide her through the after life. Buried around her were six horses, saddled and bridled, her spiritual escorts to the after life, and a symbol of her evident status, perhaps more likely a revered folk tale narrator, a healer or a holy woman than an ice princess. The Siberian permafrost acted as a natural freezer and perfectly preserved the princess’ skin for 2500 years, and her beautifully intricate tattoos. They are all believed to be Pazyryk people – a nomadic people described in the 5th century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus – and the colorful body artwork is seen as the best preserved and most elaborate ancient tattoos anywhere in the world. Tattoos were used as a mean of personal identification. The Pazyryks also believed the tattoos would be helpful in another life, making it easy for the people of the same family and culture to find each other after death. The amount of tattoos that she had depicted her age and class. With only her left arm and right shoulder covered, she was very young, but her status as a high ranking member of her clan was shown by the amount of things buried with her to assist her in the afterlife. The warriors she was buried with were a bit older with both arms and a leg tattooed.

Tattoos found on her buried guardians.

Tattoos found on her buried guardians.

The left arm tattoo of the princess.

The left arm tattoo of the princess.

A closer view of her left shoulder, with the actual flesh next to the design.

A closer view of her left shoulder, with the actual flesh next to the design.

An illustration of her right shoulder tattoo.

An illustration of her right shoulder tattoo.

The Princess

The Princess

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4 thoughts on “Primordial Tattoos

  1. Wow! That is so neat! I myself and fascinated by tattoos and why people get them. I myself have one and find it neat as to where she has them. The shoulder, scapula and wrist are bony and trust me a tattoo on the scapula I feel is quite painful. I also wonder how they applied them back in those days. Seeing that both her guardians were covered in tattoos as well makes me wonder just exactly why they got the tattoos, as far as the symbolism goes.

    Thanks for the article! I’m for sure looking more into this one myself.

    • I’m also interested in the symbolism of the markings. I love the animal depictions. I could imagine the technique was the same traditional method that’s been used for the last few thousand years. Small needles are welded to the tip of a long rod that gets dipped into ink and hammered into the body by hand.

  2. I am not much interested about tattoo, but I am very impressed. Especially, they indicate the information of the princess by the location of tattoos. In my country, tattoo has strong meaning of shamanism. Ancient people thought they could protect themselves by special tattoo. Usually they tattooed a picture of goodness for prevent devils or ghosts. And also, a wife tattooed a woman on her husband’s back for prevent his cheat. Additionally, it also has symbolism like specific animals or natural elements have specific meaning; for example, a turtle means long live and a chicken means bring luck.

    The Korean gangsters usually tattooed a dragon and a tiger. They are very strong animals and have nice outlooks, and also they believed the animals make them more powerful. As same as the ice princess, the gangsters also sort themselves by the color of tattoo. It is really interesting that people keep doing tattoo as the same purpose since 2500 years ago.

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