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Artist Recreates Ötzi The Iceman’s 5,300-Year-Old Tattoos On Her Body — Using Her Blood

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Nicole Wilson was still in elementary school when she discovered the Ice Age mummy. Stunned by the unusual ink on his body, the now-adult artist went to extreme lengths to learn more about our heritage.


When Tzi the Iceman's frozen 5,300-year-old body was discovered in 1991, it became the oldest preserved human ever discovered. Nicole Wilson was still in elementary school when she learnt about the 61 tattoos found on his body. She has decided to have them recreated on herself as an artist, using her blood as the ink.


According to Art Net, the Ice Age mummy was called after the tzal Alps, which were discovered near the Italian-Austrian border. 


The body was so well preserved that scientists were able to determine his last meal and that he died as a result of an arrow to the shoulder. Wilson, on the other hand, was attracted by the ancient and secretive tattoo art.


The tattoos, which were made up of lines and crosses, were discovered in 16 groups near Tzi's ribcage and lumbar spine, as well as his wrist, knee, calves, and ankles.


 While they were created by pressing crushed charcoal onto tiny wounds, Wilson used her blood as ink and photographed the tattoos as they were reabsorbed into her herb body over four years.


According to Ancient Origins, she was so enamoured with the idea of compressing time across the ages that she thought the years-long process to be a perfect match.


 Her art, which is currently on display at a tattoo parlour in Brooklyn, aims to investigate how much of our human history is lost forever — and our responsibility to fill those gaps.


Hikers Helmut and Erika Simon discovered tzi the Iceman's body on September 19, 1991. It was so well-preserved that they initially mistook it for the body of a fallen climber.


 The "climber" was eventually dated to between 3350 and 3100 B.C. after being transported to the medical examiner's office in Innsbruck a few days later.


"I want to think he was kept because of cataclysmic circumstances — a perfect storm of him dying as a storm came through, covering him in snow and ice that properly preserved his remains," Wilson explained. "He is a mummy, but not in the manner that Egyptian mummies are. He was in no way prepared for death."


Tzi was a so-called "wet" mummy, with the exterior wonderfully preserved by glacial ice and the humidity of the ice keeping his organs and skin intact. 


Pollens discovered in his stomach proved he died in the spring or summer. Wilson was immediately captivated by the mummy's ink.


"The tattoos themselves are fascinating. Scientists believe they may have acupuncture relevance, but we don't know for sure," Wilson added. "We can't inquire as to what the lines, dashes, and hashes signified to this person."


Wilson, now 33, began the avant-garde effort in 2012 and enlisted the help of a tattoo artist friend to reproduce the body art with her blood. Wilson's goal was to capture the ancient mummy's markings as they were absorbed into her body, with the heme (or pigment within the blood) producing dark scars that did not fade.


"I became incredibly obsessed with the idea of connecting myself to history," Wilson explained. "What would it imply if I could act as a proxy for his body or vice versa?" It's as if we could compress time by closing some type of historical time warp."


"It's fascinating to live with scars on your body." When you're getting dressed, you look down and are reminded of what you did and the connection you're attempting to build. 


For years, I had been contemplating who I am and my relationship with history. It was a little sorry to see them vanish totally."


Researchers employing multispectral imaging discovered two more tattoos on Tzi's mummified corpse in 2015. Wilson, ever the perfectionist, was keen to duplicate her project in 2016 with the assistance of Three Kings Tattoo. The company agreed to use her blood as ink and to display her photographs at its Brooklyn site.


"As empowering as the initial action was, I couldn't preserve his marks; they faded over time and left me," Wilson explained. "However, this artistic movement just reflects the fact that the link between any two bodies is subject to the rules of the universe and contextual limits."


The meaning of tzi the Iceman's tattoos is ultimately unknown. If the acupuncture theory is right, his body has the earliest known evidence of the procedure, dating back 2,000 years before the first examples in Asia. Wilson's ultimate goal was to investigate the unknowability and intangibility of history.


"I'm attempting to communicate with the gaps in what we know and who we are," she explained. "So much of history neatly ties itself up, but we need to talk about what's missing and what's left out — the gaps in history that are also forming our present narrative now."


Those who missed her art in New York will be able to see it again when the "Nicole Wilson: tzi" display travels to Los Angeles and London in 2022. 


Her images will be on exhibit, but they can also be purchased online in blockchain-authenticated individual groupings ranging from $400 to $1,800 — or as a whole collection for $10,000.

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