It turns out, though, that the current craze for “body art” has a very ancient lineage — and its known history has just gotten even older.
Researchers recently determined that two Egyptian mummies in the British Museum have tattoos. The mummies are 5,000 years old and date back to pre-dynastic Egypt, which pushes the date of the earliest known use of figurative body art, rather than geometric patterns, back by an additional 1,000 years. One of the mummies is a woman who has a series of four “s” shapes — perhaps coiled snakes? — inked on her shoulder, which may have been symbols of status, bravery, and magical knowledge. The other mummy is a man who has depictions of a wild bull and a sheep on his upper arm. The bull figure was supposed to denote power and virility, but it apparently didn’t help the male mummy, who died of a stab wound to the back when he was between 18 and 21 years old.
The markings were made using a technique that would be considered incredibly crude by modern standards. The British Museum thinks the tattoos were produced using soot as the coloring agent and needles of copper or bone to insert the soot under the skin.
There’s no way to know, of course, whether figurative tattoos have an even more ancient history, because we don’t have preserved bodies going back 10,000 years. The discoveries of cave paintings made by the earliest human ancestors, however, suggests to me that the creation of figurative art is instinctive and has played a key role in human development. It just makes sense that the cave painters would also have experimented with decorating an actual body or two. I’d bet that if you invented a time machine and went back to check out the humans of 10,000 or 15,000 years ago, you’d see your fair share of ink.
“Everything worth saying has already been said; everything worth writing has already been written.”
I’ve loved this quote ever since I first read it, in one of the Will Durant’s volumes on Civilization. It’s pithy, and it brilliantly captures that world weariness that you sometimes feel when you’re on the treadmill at work and you feel like there is nothing new under the sun and you’re absolutely going to scream if somebody walks into your office and gives you another mundane chore.
But here’s the really great thing about that perfect quote — it was penned by some Egyptian writer in about 2100 B.C. That’s centuries before Moses and the books of the Old Testament, centuries before the Greek Civilization and the Roman Empire, and millennia before the Renaissance, the writings of Shakespeare, and Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. So whoever wrote that wonderful statement was dead wrong. There were new things to write, there were new things to say, there were new things to do and new ideas to discover and new things to invent. That was true in 2100 B.C., and it is still true, today.
It’s a pretty good quote to think of when you’ve had one of those days.
Since my surgery yesterday, I’ve kept my left foot elevated above my heart, to try to minimize swelling, and avoided putting any weight on my left foot, to avoid bending the pins that are straightening my toes. That means I’ve made two new friends — our family room couch and my crutches.
In our house, the couch is the province of Kish, Penny, and Kasey; I’m a chair guy. I’m also happy to report that in nearly 32 years of marriage I’ve never slept on the couch before. Last night I broke that record. It’s just easier to stay on the first floor right now, and couches are well-suited to constructing teetering towers of pillows to serve as a platforms for my bandaged hoof. With the aid of some pain medication, I slept pretty well last night, and my main concern is keeping the dogs from jumping up on me.
I’ve also been fortunate to never have used crutches before. They’a bit awkward, and I’ve got to watch slipping on the rugs on our hardwood floors, but I’m starting to get the hang of them. I can hobble around, after a fashion.
Some time in the distant past, some now anonymous person invented the first crutch. Like the splint, the crutch is one of the basic medical care devices that has been used for millennia; it apparently dates back to ancient Egypt. On behalf of all modern users of this ancient device, I’d like to thank it’s true inventor — whoever you were.