The so-called “tramp stamp” isn’t a sign of trashiness — it’s early women’s tradition.
A recent discovery has lead researchers to believe that ancient Egyptian women were adorned with lower back tattoos to protect themselves and others during childbirth.
The hypothesis comes after experts from the University of Missouri and Johns Hopkins University examined the mummified remains of two women with inked backsides.
According to study authors, their power derives from “sympathetic magic,” activated only when all of the women involved during childbirth bore similar tattoos.
“One possibility is that these motifs were not worn by all women, but only by those who would be involved in the birth-giving process, being midwives and/or women partaking in rituals related to childbirth,” the research suggests.
The remains were discovered at Deir el-Medina, a site located on the west bank of the Nile, across the river from modern-day Luxor.
The site is known to have been an ancient Egyptian workmen’s village which was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings between the 18th to 20th Dynasties of the New Kingdom of Egypt.
UMSL’s Anne Austin and Johns Hopkins’ Marie-Lys Arnette, whose work was published in the in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, believe there to be a link to the deity Hathor, who ruled over love, beauty, revelry, fertility and pleasure.
“The hypothesis is supported by the fact that previous tattoos found at Deir el-Medina were linked with Hathor, that is to say, that these women might have been related to the cult of the goddess, and/or with Hathoric rituals in general,” the study notes.
Historically, childbirth has always been a highly dangerous and often deadly endeavor, which has inspired an array of myths and spells around the world to protect pregnant mothers.
“One can also imagine that the figurines showing representations of tattoos would be especially linked with childbirth, that is to say, that they would have been used during the event – for example, thanks to their small size, the figurines could have been held in hand by the woman in labour, or by the midwives when performing rituals,” researchers wrote.
Lower back tattoos were popularized in Western culture in the early 2000s by young, female celebrities including Britney Spears, Aaliyah, Nicole Richie and Lindsay Lohan.
A 2011 study found that the body artwork, referred to as “tramp stamps,” became unfairly associated with promiscuity but as other Y2K trends are resurfacing, so are the specific tattoo placements.