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A life less ordinary: analysis of the uniquely preserved tattooed dermal remains of an individual from 19th century France.

Smith, M. J., Starkie, A., Slater, R. and Manley, H., 2021. A life less ordinary: analysis of the uniquely preserved tattooed dermal remains of an individual from 19th century France. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 13 (3), 55.

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DOI: 10.1007/s12520-021-01290-8


‘Anthropologies of the Body’ often view the human form as a sort of text, onto which meanings and experiences are inscribed during people’s lives, rendering the body effectively as an artefact of material culture. Such ‘inscription’ is generally metaphorical; however, in the case of tattooing, aspects of the way people wish to be perceived are quite literally inscribed upon the body. The current article presents analysis of an unusual ‘artefact’ in the form of the major anterior portion of the preserved, tattooed skin of an adult male. The skin’s provenance was previously unknown, as was the reason why he had been subject to such treatment after death. The current project has progressed towards resolving these issues using multiple approaches, including CT scanning, multispectral light sources, infrared reflectography and spectroscopic dating. The latter technique produced a date range of 1861 ±15 years for the wood on which the skin was mounted. Multispectral and infrared light examination made it possible to discern many of the tattooed motifs much more clearly. The images and text that were made visible suggested this man had been French and had probably spent time overseas, possibly in naval service. Towards the end of his life, he may have been imprisoned and the date ‘1883’ was decipherable. The current analysis allowed the investigators to glean far more information than was initially expected, providing a considerably richer personal narrative of this individual through the content of his tattoos than is usually possible in biological anthropology.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:Tattooing . Soft-tissue preservation . Mummification . Computerised tomography . Infrared . Osteobiography
Group:Faculty of Science & Technology
ID Code:35280
Deposited By: Symplectic RT2
Deposited On:15 Mar 2021 14:18
Last Modified:14 Mar 2022 14:26


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