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Christian tattoo found on Nile mummy

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A photograph (left) and an infra-red reflectography of a tattoo found on the mummified remains of a Sudanese woman. | Photo courtesy of the British Museum.

The British Museum has used CAT scans to examine eight Egyptian-era mummies, one of whom was a woman who died about AD 700. But researchers were able to discover with their eyes alone what the 20-to-35-year-old carried to protect her in life and death: a Christian tattoo.

“You can see her tattoo really clearly using infra red reflectography,”  Daniel Antoine, the museum’s curator of physical anthropology, tells the Telegraph. “The tattoo on her right inner thigh represents a monogram that spells Michael in ancient Greek,” referring  to the archangel, a popular symbol in early Christian art. ”She is the first evidence of a tattoo from this period. This is a very rare find.”

Her remains were discovered seven years ago in a dig in Sudan, where she had lived in a Christian community on the banks of the Nile.

If her tattoo spells Michael’s name, it would also appear to represent the scales, in the archangel’s aspect as a judge of souls. But he was most often invoked to drive away evil.

“We can only speculate why she had a tattoo,” Antoine says. “Perhaps for protection.”

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