Pre-Dynastic Mummies: The Gebelein Man “Ginger”

The Gebelein Man (British Museum. EA32751), also known informally as “Ginger” due to his red hair; is the mummy of a young Egyptian man found in Gebelein (modern Naga el-Gherira, 25 miles south of Thebes), dating from the Late Pre-Dynastic Period, c. 3400 B.C.

During the period of Gebelein Man’s life and death, Egyptians were buried in oval pit graves in a foetal position. Unlike their later descendants from the Dynastic age, they did not go through a ‘man-made’ mummification process; within these oval pit graves, bodies would become naturally mummified by the desert sands and climate.

The Gebelein Man (British Museum. EA32751), also known informally as “Ginger”
The Gebelein Man (British Museum. EA32751), also known informally as “Ginger” due to his red hair; is the mummy of a young Egyptian man found in Gebelein.

It is thought these early burials were studied by later Egyptians to perfect the art (and science) of mummification, a technique the Dynastic Egyptians would of course become famous for.

The British Museum sent the body of the Gebelein Man to the Bupa Cromwell Hospital in London for C.T. scans in order to discover more about who he was and what may have actually happened to him. The discoveries were fascinating.

The results concluded that the Gebelein Man was between 18 and 21 years old at the time of his death. And unfortunately, he was murdered. X-Rays revealed that the young man had been stabbed in the back, just slightly above his left shoulder blade, and sadly such brutality was his cause of death. His shoulder blade was in fact shattered during the attack, as were his 3rd and 4th ribs on the left side of his chest.

Despite the tragedy of the Gebelein Man, the C.T. scans of his remains provided historians with a surprising and valuable piece of information about the culture of this very early period of Egyptian history, and human history in general:

Using infrared technology, it was discovered that the Gebelein Man has tattoos, which now makes him (and the Gebelein woman; British Museum. EA32752) the oldest humans as yet to be discovered with tattoos of distinguishable figures, with only Ötzi the Iceman from the European Chalcolithic period (with his mysterious 61 line tattoos across his body) predating them.

The tattoos on the Gebelein Man are upon his upper right arm and are of two horned animals; seemingly a bull and a Barbary sheep.

In Dynastic Egyptian art, it was the Libyans (Egypt’s neighbours to the west) who were depicted with tattooed limbs (arms and legs), however, due to modern technology, recent findings have taught us that tattoos were in fact evident in Ancient Egypt during the Dynastic age too; most notably a female mummy from Deir el-Medina, whose mummy has a tattooed chest and neck.

Before the scans of the Gebelein mummies, scholars were aware that tattoos were around in the Pre-Dynastic age, yet the Gebelein Man is the first male to have been found with such. Before this, due to the lack of evidence, Egyptologists presumed the tattoos were a feminine cultural practice.

Modern technology, such as non-intrusive scans and infrared technology, as well as DNA is helping us get closer to the ancient world in ways that were seemingly unfathomable just decades ago.

The tattoo on the arm of Gebelein man, to the naked eye was seemingly just a smudge, yet the technology of today made it clear it was a distinguishable figure, making the Gebelein Man of Pre Dynastic Egypt, the earliest known man thus far to have a recognizable figure tattooed upon him.

Written by Catherine Christina (Egyptology Certificate/Diploma student at Manchester University)