Tattoo of Archangel Michael Discovered on 1,300 Year-Old Mummy

Barbara Boland
By Barbara Boland | March 28, 2014 | 10:13 AM EDT

A tattoo has been discovered on the inner thigh of a 1,300 year-old Sudanese woman's body from the Nile River region. The British Museum has taken eight mummies and sent them to hospitals for advanced medical testing including CAT scans, reports The Telegraph.

This particular woman, thought to be Sudanese, has "the first evidence of a tattoo from this period. This is a very rare find," said Dr. Antoine. Her tattoo was visible with the naked eye but, "You can see her tattoo really clearly using infra-red reflectography. The tattoo on her right inner thigh represents a monogram that spells Michael in ancient Greek."

The tattoo represents the symbol of the Archangel Michael, featured in both the Old and New Testaments. "The symbol has previously been found in ancient churches and on stone tablets, but never before in the form of a tattoo," The Telegraph reports. The tattoo spells out the symbols for "Mixaha" or Michael, in ancient Greek.

Tattoo Image Courtesy of Trustees of the British Museum

The woman's body was found on an archaeological dig in a cemetery in Sudan in 2005. She was between 20 to 35 years old when she died, and stood at 5 feet 2 inches tall. She was not mummified on purpose, but preserved accidentally by nature due to the dry, arid conditions where she was buried.

The medical investigation which the British Museum has subjected the eight mummies to has shed new light on health in bygone eras: two of the mummies had heart problems, and the majority had terrible dental health (that could have led to their deaths.)

John Taylor, head curator in the Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department at the British Museum, stressed to The Telegraph that the project's goal is to highlight the humanity of the mummies and not to present them as historical relics:

"We want to promote the idea these are not objects but real human beings. We want to capture the humanity of these people....We captured some amazing images and discovered a lot about these mummies even though some of them have been here at the museum for 100 years or more. Most of the remains have never had the bandages taken off."