Archeologists studying a burial site near a medieval monastery spotted a rare find when examining one of the bodies: the faint remains of a series of Christian symbols tattooed on the person’s foot.
“It was quite a surprise to all of a sudden see what appeared to be a tattoo,” said Kari A. Guilbault, a Purdue University bioarchaeologist in a statement released by the University of Warsaw. “At first, I was not certain, but when the images were processed and the tattoo was clearly visible, any initial uncertainties were removed.”
The tattoo — located on the top of one of the bodies’ feet — is of the Greek letters Alpha and Omega as well as a so-called “Christogram,” a religious symbol combining the Greek letters Chi and Rho to make an abbreviation for Christ’s name.
The images were taken using a full spectrum camera, and then digitally enhanced so that the early Christian symbols could be seen.
According to a statement from the University of Warsaw, the team investigated the Ghazali monastery, an archeological site in Sudan that is well preserved.
The site was first studied in the Bayuda Desert between 2012and 2018 by a Polish and Sudanese team that explored the monastery, the four surrounding burial sites, and hundreds of graves.
Researchers took photos of some buried bodies to learn more about the people who lived in the area. While reviewing the photos, Guilbault spotted the symbols.
Guilbault and bioarchaeologist Robert Stark of the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw told LiveScience that the location of the tattoo was intriguing since it may line up with where Jesus is said to have had a nail driven through during his crucifixion.
The individual wasn’t buried in the same cemetery as the monastery’s monks but rather in a burial ground that may have been used by people from nearby communities, Stark and Guilbault said.
The two told LiveScience the individual lived between 667and 774, and that they were buried in an area that was likely used by people from the surrounding community.