The researchers discovered the world’s oldest figurative tattoos in two 5,000-year-old mummies from Egypt.
The pictures consist of a wild bull and a Berber sheep on the upper arm of a male mummy and S-shaped motifs on the upper arm and shoulder of a female.
The discovery pushes the evidence back 1000 years for African practice.
Details of the tattoos were published in the Journal of Archeology Science.
Daniel Antoine, a prominent writer of the research document, and the British Museum Physical Anthropology Curator, said the discovery “transformed” our understanding of how people lived during this period.
“Only now we are getting new information about the lives of these extraordinarily protected individuals. Incredibly, over 5,000 years old, they are pushing the evidence back for a millennium to tattoo in Africa,” BBC News told.
The male mummy was found about 100 years ago.
Previous CT scans showed that he was 18 to 21 years old when he died from a knife wound from behind.
Dark spots on his arm were thought to be insignificant until infrared scans revealed that the slightly overlapping two-horned animal had a tattoo. It is interpreted that someone is a wild bull with a long tail and detailed horns; the other looks like a Berber sheep with curved horns and humpback shoulders.
There are four small S-shaped motifs that run down the right shoulder of the female mummy.
There is also a motif that is thought to represent the batons used in ritual dance.
The designs are under the skin and the pigment is probably soot.
Previously, archaeologists had thought that in the ancient past only women wore tattoos, but the discovery of tattoos in the male mummy now shows body modifications for both sexes.
Researchers believe that tattoos will show status, courage, and magical information.
Mummies were found in Gebelein, south of Upper Egypt, approximately 40 km south of Luxor today.
Individuals were buried in shallow graves without special preparation, but their bodies were naturally protected by the warmth, salinity and drought of the desert.
Radiocarbon results show that the region lived between 3351 and 3017 BC, shortly before being united by the first pharaoh around 3100 BC.
The oldest tattoo sample, known as Ötzi, was founded in BC. It is found in the Alpine mummy, which is thought to have lived between 3370 and 3100. However, their tattoos are vertical or horizontal lines rather than figurative.