September 21, 2013
In 1889, Mexican archaeologist Leopoldo Batres was contacted about the find of a â€œToltec Mummyâ€ in a cave near Santa MarÃa CamotlÃ¡n, Oaxaca. Batres published an obscure illustrated paper on the discovery later that year, which partially depicted the geometric forearm tattoos of the individual. Some years later, the mummy found its way to the TrocadÃ©ro Ethnographic Museum in Paris.
Over the course of the following 123 years, the female mummy lay largely forgotten until 2012 when detailed studies of her body were finally conducted. Today, the mummy is housed in the collections of the MuseÃ© du quai Branly in Paris.
Remarkably, radiocarbon dating has shown that this individual dates to 250 A.D. Her arm tattoos are now known to be more extensive and complex than previously thought and are possibly related to Later Oaxacan (â€œMixteca-Pueblaâ€) scribal traditions. The â€œToltec Mummyâ€ provides the earliest firm evidence of tattooing in Mexico.
Hopefully additional studies (e.g., infrared photography, tattoo pigment research) of this unique individual will reveal more clues to the meanings behind her exquisite zoomorphic tattoos.
Batres, L. 1889. Momia tolteca clasificada. Mexico City: Escuela Nacional de Artes y Oficios.
Leboreiro, I., J. Mansilla, F. de Pierrebourg, and C. Moulherat. 2013. â€œMomias y tatuajes: Leopoldo Batres y La â€˜Momia Tolteca.â€™” Arqueologia Mexicana 21(121):25-29.
Urcid, J. 2011. â€œThe Written Surface as a Cultural Code: A Comparative Perspective of Scribal Traditions from Southwestern Mesoamerica.â€ Pp. 111-148 in Their Way of Writing: Scripts, Signs, and Pictographs in Pre-Columbian America (E.H. Boone and G. Urton, eds.). Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Museum.