In the twentieth century, other important discoveries were made that have helped reconstruct the history of tattooing on our continent. In southern Siberia, on the upper Altai Mountains, the bodies of a man and a woman were found in two different burial mounds. These bodies had also been well-preserved for 2.500 years, thanks to ice and a skillful mummification technique which almost completely preserved their skins.

In 1948, the Russian anthropologist Sergei Rudenko discovered a Pazyryk cemetery at about 120 kilometers from the Chinese-Russian border. The tombs Rudenko discovered were in an excellent state of conservation. They contained skeletons and complete bodies of embalmed horses and human beings, as well as a large number of artifacts: harnesses, saddles, a cart, blankets, clothing, jewelry, musical instruments, amulets, tools and hashish pipes (which were described by Rudenko as “pipes for smoking hemp”). Also discovered were textiles coming from China and Persia, which were thousands of kilometers from Pazyryk territory. Rudenko’s most important discovery was the mummified body of a Pazyryk chief – a stocky and strong man who had died when he was 50 years old. While a part of his body had deteriorated, most of his tattoos were easy to see.

Tattoo from an Altai's Mummy via Pinterest
Tattoo from an Altai’s Mummy via Pinterest

This chief had elaborate tattoos of real and mythological animals all over his body.

The best preserved tattoos were of a donkey, a mountain goat, two stylized deers with long horns and an imaginary carnivorous animal, on his right arm. His chest displayed two griffin-like monsters and his left arm had partially erased images which seem to be two deers and another mountain goat. On the front of his right leg there was a large fish which extended from his foot to his knee, while a monster seemed to be climbing onto a foot; on the inside of his shin there was a series of four running rams which were attached together to create one design. His left leg also had tattoos, but they had deteriorated and are no longer visible. On his back he had a series of small circles along his spine which probably had been given as therapy. Tattoos like this are still made today to cure back pains in some Siberian tribes.

Tattoos from the Altai's Mummies via Pinterest
Tattoos from the Altai’s Mummies via Pinterest

To be continued… Stay Tuned for The Origins of Tattooing in Europe #3