June 21, 2017

The world’s oldest known tattoos adorn various parts of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy discovered in the Alps on the border of Austria and Italy in 1991. Ötzi has at least 61 of them, and scientists believe there was far more to his body art than a collection of cool-looking designs. Instead, researchers believe Ötzi’s tattoos served a physically therapeutic purpose: relief from joint and spinal pain. The Copper Age man’s artwork—a crude cross, rings around his wrists and simple straight lines, among others—appear to be clustered in and around the affected areas on his body, meaning it’s probable he was tattooed in a ritualistic stab at medicinal aid.

“Approximately 80 to 85 percent of Ötzi’s tattoos line up with classical acupuncture points to relieve rheumatism, or they align with meridians,” Lars Krutak, research associate in the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian Institution, tells SFR. “In this sense, his tattoos seem to have had some therapeutic value.”

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