In 1993, high in the Russian Altai Mountains, the oldest example of human tattooing was found. Princess Ukok was discovered in an unmolested burial mound, on the remote Ukok plateau along with two males (possibly warrior protectors). This region of the world is almost unreachable except by helicopter and was traversed in ancient times via the southern steppe road.

The mummies found perfectly preserved in the permafrost for over 2500 years were part of a nomadic steppe culture, and while they have been studied for these past 24 years it wasn’t until 2012 that we had high resolution recreations of their tattoos. The ink in their skin was made with plant ash high in potassium mixed with a fat which was then rubbed in after the design was poked into the skin with a sharp object, more an ink rubbing than conventional tattoo, but just as effective. What makes these images so remarkable is not only their age but their complexity. Tattoos found on other bodies from this time period were naught but dots or lines, these delicate and intricate curving images of animals and the mythos of their culture have yet to be seen and are presumed to be used for identification; a passport of sorts. This leads to the idea that she was a medicine/priestess or travelling storyteller, a position of incredible importance in a culture kept alive through oration.

Although the princess was shown to be from a different ethnic group to the Altaian people, begin found in that region many still believe her to be the foremother to the Altai tribes. With this in mind the people of the region objected to her removal seeing it as a sacrilege to their ancestors. Shamanism still holds sway here and following the removal of her and her protectors the region was met with many minor natural disasters. She has since been returned to her rest but this begs the question; was something more going on here, were her tattoos just tattoos or truly spiritual markings?