Scans Reveal Archangel Michael Tattoo on Mummy's Thigh
In 2014, a team of scientists in London carried out high-tech scanning on eight Egyptian mummies from the British Museum, uncovering fascinating information about them, including the revelation that one of the female mummies apparently has a tattoo symbolizing Archangel Michael on her inner thigh.
Mummies of All Ages and Walks of Life
The eight mummies lived during different eras and came from different walks of life, from royalty to citizens living along the Nile. One of the mummies was only around two years of age when he died, while others lived to see their 50th birthday. The oldest mummy tested is more than 5,500 years old, while the most recent lived around 1,300 years ago.
The mummies underwent computerized tomography scans (CT scans) and infra-red reflectography at London hospital, which revealed what lay underneath their wrappings for the first time. The scans enabled the scientists to build up a 3D image of the ancient remains, revealing bones, tissue, and vital organs.
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Scanning an Egyptian mummy. (Northwestern University)
An Archangel Michael Tattoo
The results revealed that the Egyptians suffered from some of the same health issues that plague us today, including high cholesterol, fatty diets, heart problems, and dental issues. But most fascinating of all was the discovery of a tattoo on a female mummy, aged between 20 and 35, which Dr. David Antoine, curator of physical anthropology at the British Museum, described as “truly a unique and remarkable find”.
A photograph, left, and an infra-red reflectography of the tattoo found on the mummified remains of a Sudanese woman. Photo credit: Trustees of the British Museum
The 1,300-year-old female mummy was different from the others in that her remains were found in Sudan and she had been naturally-preserved by the hot and arid environment. Her tattoo represents the symbol of the Archangel Michael, who features in both the Old and New Testaments, and who was the Patron Saint of medieval Sudan.
“The tattoo on her right inner thigh represents a monogram that spells Michael in ancient Greek,” said Dr Antoine. “We have found other examples of the monogram, but never in the form of a tattoo.”
A depiction of Archangel Michael. (Public Domain)
Who was Archangel Michael?
Michael is an archangel in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic teachings. In the New Testament Michael leads God's armies against Satan's forces in the Book of Revelation. He defeats Satan during the war in heaven.
Christian sanctuaries to Michael appeared in the 4th century, when he was first seen as a healing angel. Over time he became regarded as a protector and the leader of the army of God against the forces of evil. By the 6th century, devotions to Archangel Michael were widespread both in the Eastern and Western Churches.
Church of Archangel Michael in Yaroslavl, Russia. (Public Domain)
Questions of Respect
The mummies and the detailed results of the scans were displayed in an exhibition titled “Ancient Lives: New Discoveries.” The exhibition drew controversy as many protested that the display of deceased individuals is disrespectful, and not in accordance with what they would have wished.
The issue of respecting deceased individuals has long been associated with the treatment of their mummified remains. One of the biggest examples of what is generally considered the desecration and disrespect of mummies took place during Victorian times in England. A public obsession with ancient Egypt and mummies was at an all-time high and many people gathered and paid to watch the unwrapping of mummies in public or private events. They were told the mummified individuals were princesses or high-ranking officials, but in the end the ‘success’ of unwrapping parties came down to the host’s showmanship skills.
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Eventually the macabre practice died out. As Wu Mingren explained in a previous Ancient Origins article:
“One of the reasons for this is the realization that carrying out such an activity in the name of ‘science’ was unjustifiable, and that it would be better to preserve the past. Another reason is provided by John J. Johnston, an Egyptologist, who is of the opinion that the Victorians eventually grew bored of these mummy unwrapping parties, as Pettigrew’s performance was more or less the same each time, and the thrill gradually waned.”
In 1908, Margaret Murray, the first woman appointed as a lecturer in archaeology in the UK, undertook the last known mummy unwrapping ‘party.’
Top Image: CT scan 3D visualization of the mummified remains of a Sudanese woman, including her Archangel Michael tattoo. Source: Trustees of the British Museum