Researchers from the UW’s Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology (PCMA UW) have made an unusual discovery at a cemetery in Ghazali, Sudan. The scientists have discovered an extremely rare mediaeval religious tattoo. This is only the second time the practice of tattooing has been evidenced in mediaeval Nubia.
The mediaeval monastic site of Ghazali is one of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Sudan. It is located in the Wadi Abu Dom region of the Bayuda desert, in the northern province of Sudan, about 20 km from the modern town of Karima.
Between 2012 and 2018, a Polish-Sudanese team from the PCMA UW headed by Prof. Artur Obłuski investigated a mediaeval (7th-13th century) Christian monastery at the site as well as four cemeteries within which hundreds of graves are present.
The human remains are currently studied by bioarchaeologist Dr Robert J. Stark (PCMA UW) and his colleagues, who are investigating the provenance of the local population and seeking to learn what life was like for the people who were buried there.
A recent discovery from the site ranks among the most interesting. Thanks to multispectral photography and research conducted at the Bioarchaeological Laboratory of the PCMA UW, Kari A. Guilbault of Purdue University discovered a tattoo on the right foot of one of the individuals buried in the Ghazali cemetery.
“It was quite a surprise to all of a sudden see what appeared to be a tattoo when I was working with the Ghazali collection. At first, I was not certain, but when the images were processed and the tattoo was clearly visible, any initial uncertainties were removed.” Kari A. Guilbault says. The research was conducted in connection with her doctoral thesis.
The tattoo depicts a Christogram and the Greek letters, “alpha” and “omega”. A Christogram is a religious symbol combining the Greek letters “chi” and “rho” to form a monogram abbreviation for the name of Christ. The letters “alpha” and “omega,” the first and the last letter of the Greek alphabet, stand for the Christian belief that God is the beginning and the end of everything.
Documentation of this tattoo from Ghazali brings forth numerous questions about the practice of tattooing and signs of faith in mediaeval Nubia.