the Mummy and Acupuncture
Revelations about Otzi's Tattoos
According to an
upcoming study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the 57 tattoos on Ötzi’s body were made
from fireplace soot that contained glittering and colorful precious stone crystals.
The findings suggest how prehistoric people were tattooed, and it also supports prior research that his tattoos
were associated with acupuncture treatments.
Using optical microscopy and various powerful electron
microscopy techniques, Pabst, a professor in the Institute of Cell Biology at the Medical University of Graz, and
her colleagues analyzed several of Otzi’s tattoos.
Tattoos chosen for this study consist of line markings, as well as a distinctive cross-shaped tattoo on the
iceman’s right knee. Magnification of the skin designs revealed the tattoos consisted of soot, likely raked out of
a fireplace, along with different silicate crystals, such as quartz and almandine, a type of purple
It is beleived that these crystals probably fell off stones in
the fireplace and mixed into the soot, rather than being purposely used to add sparkle to the tattoo. Obviously,
this is debatable. Supporting evidence that the tattoos were not just for aesthetic function include the fact that
the cross-shaped tattoo on his knee, and another one on his left ankle, lay over Chinese acupuncture trigger
Prior research shows Ötzi did suffer from a variety of ailments like degeneration of the hip, knee and ankle that
might have benefited from acupuncture.
It was believed that the earliest acupuncture took place in
China around 3,000 years ago. Since the 5,300 year old iceman is much older, the researcher and her colleagues now
think this technique may have been independently discovered by many different prehistoric European and Asian
It’s also still possible that tattooing and acupuncture
originated in East Asia, with the knowledge of this practice spreading to the Alps region well before the iceman’s
Frank Bahr, president of the German Academy of Acupuncture,
first made the tattoo-acupuncture connection on the iceman after studying a drawing of the tattoos and their
placement on Ötzi’s body.
Bahr told Discovery News, “The most interesting thing about
the whole iceman story is that even today I would treat a patient with about 90 percent of the same points as the
tattoos on the iceman, if this patient were to have the same diseases.”
The post makes an interesting point about the Tarim Basin in
China (based on DNA evidence) may have been a cultural crossroads in ancient times where ideas and technologies
could have been exchanged.
This could very well be how ideas about acupuncture and tattooing travelled from east to west, and visa