By the time of the New Kingdom from 1550 B.C.E on, tattooing is firmly established within cultural traditions. During this time tattoos continue to be reserved exclusively for women but they are dramatically transformed.
Abstract geometric patterns of dots and dashes now give way to representations of the god Bes, a curious deity thought to be derived from a leonine god of the Predynastic Period.
Bes was associated with the household and was employed as a protective talisman on such objects as beds and chairs that came into direct contact with people. He was also the tutelary deity of revelry and unbridled cavorting and, axiomatically, was thought to preside at childbirth.
An abstract image of Bes tattooed in the time-honored dot-and-dash method was found on a Nubian mummy at Aksha, datable to the fourth century B.C.E. As a result of that find, one can interpret the image of Bes shown on the thighs of representations of dancers or musicians in the art of the New Kingdom as tattoos.
Such a motif appears on the thigh of a female lute player on a faïence bowl. It’s likely that these tattoos are placed on the thigh so as to remind one of Bes’s lascivious nature.
The most eloquent Bes tattoo, however, is found in a wall painting from a private house in the craftsmen’s village at Deir el-Medineh in Western Thebes.
Here a lithe flute player, clothed in gossamer fabrics, gracefully pirouettes. Upon her thigh is an image of Bes, painted in dark blue-black colors that correspond, again, to the coloration of the tattoo of Bes on the mummy from Aksha. The first known representational tattoo is a god and a fun-loving one at that.