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South American Tattooing

(Peru) 11th Century

In 1920, archaeologists in Peru unearthed tattooed mummies dating from the 11th Century AD. Not much is known about the significance of tattooing within the culture of pre-Incan peoples like the Chimú who tattooed, but the elaborate nature of the designs suggests that tattooing underwent a long period of development during the pre-Inca period.

According to Lars Krutak (Cultural Anthropologist and our Technical Advisor): "The Chimú of Pre-Columbian Peru applied tattoo pigments with various types of needles (fishbone, parrot quill, spiny conch) which have been found in mummy burials. The technical application of tattooing was a form of skin-stitching, and it has been suggested that women were the primary tattoo artists.

Ice Princess hand tattooPaleopathological studies of Chimú mummies (1100-1470 A.D.) indicate that the practice of tattooing was quite common among both males and females. In some coastal settlements, it has been estimated that at least thirty percent of the population may have been tattooed."

Later, during the Incan period, nobility NEVER tattooed because it was believed that the Sun God already gave them perfect bodies.

(Gran Chaco) 18th Century

Gran Chaco tattoos
Click for more photos

According to Lars Krutak: The Gran Chaco is a vast arid plain located at the center of the South American continent. Tattooing in the Chaco has been largely replaced by less painful and infective forms of body-painting in the modern-era, it had "magical" implications in the past and nearly all indigenous groups practiced it.

In 1750, the Jesuit missionary Martin Dobrizhoffer provided a rare account of the actual ritual among the now-extinct Abipón. His observations are said to have been typical of all Chaco groups that practiced tattooing in the past.

Tattoo Museum Bibliography, Resources and Links

South America Tattoo Map See all South American Tattoo Culture Articles here

Additional Resources

Mummy of Tattooed Woman Discovered in Peru Pyramid - An exquisitely preserved and elaborately tattooed mummy of a young woman has been discovered deep inside a mud-brick pyramid in northern Peru, archaeologists from Peru and the U.S. announced. (See photos of the mummy from National Geographic magazine.)

Tattooed mummy, baptized the Lady of Cao, discovered in Peru
May 16, 2006. Source: MSN News, AP, National Geographic
Tattooed mummy puzzles scientists in Peru. They say items found alongside female hint that she was a warrior...

See the Lars Krutak articles; Tattooed Tribes of the Amazon, The Mundurucú: Tattooed Warriors of the Amazon Jungle and Tattooing in the Gran Chaco of South America for more information about tattoos & tattooing in South America.

Historically, all Amazonian tribes were identified by unique facial tattoos.
The MatsÚs have accentuated lines tattooed on their faces to identify them as members of their tribe. The Movement in the Amazon for Tribal Subsistence and Economic Sustainability (MATSES) is an organization of the MatsÚs tribe offering assistance to the MatsÚs people.

Amazon Indians Native Tribe Photos | Videos - Introduction to Amazon native tribes of the Rainforest. Source for photos and videos of Amazon Indian tribes and indigenous people of the Amazon, including photo gallery and images.

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