INSET: Tattooed ‘mustache’ found on a male mummy of the ancient Chinchorro culture of Chile (after Arriaza 1988:24, fig. 4).
I will be the first to admit that I have made mistakes before in my research, but I need to correct this one because it’s a BIGGY! Back in 2013 on my blog (also see Krutak 2007:243, fn. 1), I cited a particular publication from a respected scientist (Allison 1996:127) who wrote that the oldest evidence of tattooing in the world came from a ~6000-year-old South American mummy of the Chinchorro culture. This cosmetic-like tattooing, which resembled a kind of ‘mustache,’ predated – or so it seemed! – the 5200-year-old body marks of the European Iceman.
Today, I was working with esteemed colleagues – prehistoric archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf (USA), tattooing technology expert Benoît Robitaille (Canada), and anthropologist Sébastien Galliot (France) – via an epic Facebook exchange to review some obscure papers about the Chinchorro find. And to our surprise we rediscovered that the mummy bearing the ‘mustache’ was radiocarbon dated to 3830 ± 100 BP (Arriaza 1994:19) or ~1800 BC. Why the date was misreported in 1996 begs some answers, but as Deter-Wolf pointed out it is probably linked to a typo: “BP” vs. “BC.” Indeed, if Mr. Mustache dated to 3830 BC he would bear the world’s oldest tattoos.
So Europe, you hold the tattoo title after all! But Mr. Mustache holds steady at #2…
Allison, J.M. 1996. “Early Mummies from Coastal Peru and Chile.” Pp. 125-130 in The Man in Ice, vol. 3, Human Mummies, A Global Survey of Their Status and the Techniques of Conservation (K. Spindler, H. Wilfring, E. Rastbichler-Zissernig, D. zur Nedden, H. Nothdurfter, eds.). Vienna: Springer.
Arriaza, B. 1988. “Modelo bioarqueologico para la busqueda y acercamiento al individuo social.” Chungara 21:9-32.
1994. “Tipología de las momias Chinchorro y evolución de las prácticas de momificación.” Chungara 26:11-24.
Krutak, L. 2007. The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women. London: Bennett & Bloom.