Touched by an Angel: Mummy's Thigh Has a Holy Tattoo

A Christian tattoo has been discovered high on the inner thigh of a mummified Sudanese woman. New images released by the British Museum show the ancient ink, which dates back to 1,300 years ago.

The well-preserved corpse was discovered during a recent archaeological excavation in northern Sudan along the banks of the Nile River. CT scans allowed researchers to peek under the woman's skin and look at her bones, while infrared imaging showed her faint thigh tattoo more clearly.

Researchers at the British Museum have interpreted the tattoo as a monogram for the Archangel Michael, stacking the ancient Greek letters spelling Michael (M-I-X-A-H-A), The Telegraph reported. Archaeologists have previously found the symbol emblazoned on church mosaics and artifacts, but not on human flesh. [Photos: An Ancient Mummy's Thigh Tattoo]

Image: Mummy
A tattoo was discovered on the thigh of a Sudanese woman who died 1,300 years ago. This CT scan 3-D visualization shows her mummified remains. Trustees of the British Museum
Image: Tattoo
Infrared reflectography reveals a tattoo high on the inner thigh of a mummified Sudanese woman. The tattoo is a stylized rendering of ancient Greek letters spelling M-I-X-A-H-A, for the Archangel Michael. Trustees of the British Museum

Curator Daniel Antoine told the paper that the ancient body art is the first evidence of a tattoo from this period, calling it a "very rare find."

Antoine doesn't know for sure what purpose the tattoo would have served, but speculated it might have been intended to protect the woman, The Telegraph reported.

The mummy is set to go on display at the British Museum in London in May as part of an exhibition called "Ancient Lives: New Discoveries."

— Megan Gannon, LiveScience

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.