Because this seemed to be an exclusively female practice in ancient Egypt, mummies found with tattoos were usually dismissed by the (male) excavators who seemed to assume the women were of "dubious status," described in some cases as "dancing girls." The female mummies had nevertheless been buried at Deir el-Bahari (opposite modern Luxor) in an area associated with royal and elite burials, and we know that at least one of the women described as "probably a royal concubine" was actually a high-status priestess named Amunet, as revealed by her funerary inscriptions.


Yet, as in so many other areas of adornment, there was of course cross-cultural influences, such as those which existed between the Egyptians and Nubians, the Thracians and Greeks and the many cultures encountered by Roman soldiers during the expansion of the Roman Empire in the final centuries B.C. and the first centuries A.D. And, certainly, Polynesian culture is thought to have influenced Maori tattoos.
The word tattoo, or tattow in the 18th century, is a loanword from the Samoan word tatau, meaning "to strike".[1][2] The Oxford English Dictionary gives the etymology of tattoo as "In 18th c. tattaow, tattow. From Polynesian (Samoan, Tahitian, Tongan, etc.) tatau. In Marquesan, tatu." Before the importation of the Polynesian word, the practice of tattooing had been described in the West as painting, scarring or staining.[3]
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