Wednesday: Tattooed Egyptian Mummies Offer Lessons About Body Art Then And Now | St. Louis Public Radio

Wednesday: Tattooed Egyptian Mummies Offer Lessons About Body Art Then And Now

May 22, 2020

Anne Austin is an assistant professor of anthropology and archaeology at UMSL. She's pictured here at Deir el-Medina, an archaeological site in Egypt.
Credit Anne Austin

This interview will be on “St. Louis on the Air” over the noon hour Wednesday. This story will be updated after the show. You can listen live.

As a scholar who works with human remains, Anne Austin had long looked closely at bones. Her training is in osteology and Egyptology, and for many years she worked to expand the world’s knowledge about the health, medicine and disease of past civilizations. 

But back in 2016, her focus suddenly turned from bones to ancient skin— and body art.

“As I was doing my research, I accidentally came across this really heavily tattooed mummy — minimum 30 tattoos, on her arms, her shoulders and her back,” Austin recalled. “That discovery literally rewrote what we understand about tattooing in ancient Egypt. And since then I’ve been able to go back and find more tattoos at the site [where] I work.”

The University of Missouri-St. Louis faculty member isn’t fascinated by these ancient tattoos merely for their own sake. She sees relevance for our understanding of contemporary body art as well — from the stories they tell, to the wide range of functions they serve, to the stigma that is sometimes associated with tattoos.

Austin’s expertise came in especially handy while serving on the dissertation committee for Lacee Kaufmann, who just earned her PhD in nursing at UMSL. Kaufmann’s qualitative study probed the experiences that 12 participants — each of whom have tattoos covering at least 9% of their body — have had with health care providers.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske will talk with Austin about how her discoveries at the Egyptian archaeological site Deir el-Medina are providing new insights and challenging some long-held misconceptions. The live conversation will also include pre-recorded comments from Kaufmann.

Every tattoo tells a different story — and serves a different purpose. Tell us about yours.

Also: Have you ever experienced stigma or been the recipient of negative comments about your body art? How did you respond? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group, and help inform our coverage.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Send questions and comments about this story to