Published March 26, 2014
A mummy of an Egyptian woman dating back to 700 A.D. has been scanned and stripped to reveal a tattoo on her thigh that displays the name of the biblical archangel Michael.
The discovery, announced by researchers at the British Museum over the weekend, was made during a research project that used advanced medical scans, including Computed Tomography (CT) images, to examine Egyptian mummies at a number of hospitals in the United Kingdom last year.
The woman’s body was wrapped in a woolen and linen cloth before burial, and her remains were mummified in the desert heat. As deciphered by curators, the tattoo on her thigh, written in ancient Greek, reads Μιχαήλ, transliterated as M-I-X-A-H-A, or Michael.
Curators at the museum speculate that the tattoo was a symbol worn for religious and spiritual protection, though they declined to offer additional details.
But other scientists and theologians offered their thoughts on the tattoo’s cultural context.
“There was a sizable Christian population in Egypt in the 700s, perhaps close to a majority of the population,” said Maureen Tilley, professor of theology at Fordham University in New York.
“Like Greeks and Romans across the Mediterranean, the portion of the population that was literate was fascinated by the shapes of letters and delighted in making designs with letters in names. Hence, we have the odd shape of the tattoo composed of the letters.”
Placing the name of a powerful heavenly protector on one’s body by a tattoo or amulet was very common in antiquity, Tilley told Foxnews.com. “Christian women who were pregnant often placed amulets with divine or angelic names on bands on their abdomens to insure a safe delivery of their child,” she said.
“Placing the name on the inner thigh, as with this mummy, may have had some meaning for the hopes of childbirth or protection against sexual violation, as in ‘This body is claimed and protected.’ Michael is an obvious identity for a tattoo, as this is the most powerful of angels.”
Christian Gnostics, religious cultists in that era, were especially interested in the names and functions of intermediary beings between humans and the divine, Tilley noted.
“The Gospel of Truth and the Book of Enoch were both popular among them and have much about an angel whose story sounds very much like that of Archangel Michael in many Christian stories, the angel who led the heavenly army against Satan and the Fallen Angels.”
She added that Christians were not the only ones to use the names of angelic powers in ancient days. “Jews of antiquity were fascinated by the identity and nature of angels,” she said.
Villanova University biology professor Michael Zimmerman, who also has used advanced technologies to study Egyptian mummies, said this kind of find has been sought for years.
“I did participate in an expedition to the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt’s western desert several years ago,” he told FoxNews.com. “This was an early Christian site (around 200 AD), and the deceased were still being mummified, by simply being dried in the very hot climate.
“We did not see any tattoos on those mummies, so the British Museum find is remarkable.”
The museum, which is located in London, will reveal what it has learned about this and seven other mummies in “Ancient Lives: New Discoveries,” an exhibition scheduled to run from May 22 to Nov. 30.
John Taylor, lead curator of the ancient Egypt and Sudan department at the museum, told a local newspaper over the weekend that the exhibition will tell the story of the lives of eight people from antiquity, portraying them as full human beings, rather than as archeological objects.
Using sophisticated medical imaging usually reserved to study strokes and heart attacks, the research team discovered that these eight ancient individuals, whose remains have been held in the museum for some time, had many of the same traits that modern man does, including dental problems, high cholesterol levels and tattoos.
The exhibition portrays one mummy that dates back to 3,500 BC, as well as the tattooed female, aged between 20 and 35, who lived and died about 1,300 years ago. Researchers pointed out that regular Egyptians – not only the royals – were mummified.
The tattooed mummy, the remains of which were found less than a decade ago, was so well preserved that archaeologists could nearly discern the tattoo on the inner thigh of her right leg with the naked eye. But medical infrared technology helped them see it clearly.
The Vatican’s school of science, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, did not return multiple requests for comments made by FoxNews.com.