The Brief History of Tattooing

On December 13, 2012, in Tattoo Facts, Tattoos, by Tristan G

There is no doubt that body modifications, especially tattoos, became very popular all over the world. On the other hand, tattoos are often associated with some negative social and medical issues such as slavery, gangs, crime, skin cancer, trouble with employment, and bad reputation. The word tattoo is derived from the Polynesian word ‘tatao’ which literally means “to mark someone”.

The art of tattooing is almost 5,000 years old. For many years scientists believed that first people who tattooed their bodies were Nubians and Egyptians. The tattooed mummies found in Egypt date to about 2000 BC, the time when Egypt was a prosperous country connected internationally with states such as Persia, Greece, Arabia and Crete. For that reason it was easy for them to spread the fashion of skin inking throughout the world.

history of tattooing

However, the discovery of a frozen mummy back in the year 1991, in the mountains bordering Italy and Austria gave the scientists a brand new perspective. The body of Ötzi the Iceman is estimated to date back to the Bronze Age, somewhere about the year 3,300 BC and it’s the best preserved natural mummy found in our time. The thing that surprised the scientists is that Ötzi had a cross tattooed on the inside of his knee, while his back and ankles were decorated with lines made in ink. And these were just few of the unbelievable 57 tattoos they found all over his body. The scientists assume that these tattoos were used to treat the arthritis. Whatever the purpose may be, these tattoos present the earliest known evidence of such a practice.

Younger than Ötzi, but still older than the Egyptian mummies are the 2,400 years old mummified bodies found in the Altai Mountains in Siberia, near the border dividing China from Russia. These mummies, discovered in 1948, had tattoos representing various images of animals and monsters, some of them assumed to have magical power, while the others were just a decoration.

There are also a few examples of geometric tattoos found on women in Egypt, on the location of Thebes, the most famous being the mummy of Amunet, a priestess inked with lines and dots which were to represent the flow of blood in her body. It is estimated that this priestess of the Godess Hathor lived somewhere between 2,160 BC and 1,994 BC.

In the other part of the world – Japan, the practice of tattooing dates back to about 3,000 BC. For the Japanese, tattoos had magical and religious meaning which is easily seen on the clay figurines that were buried together with the dead to follow them on their journey to the new world. It’s unnecessary to mention that the Japanese were, and still are, the true masters of ink, especially when it comes to design and colors.

It is similar with Polynesian culture. For them, a tattoo is not only an image on the skin for they pay great attention on details and the complexity of the design, so this type of tattoo can be done only by the most skillful artists.


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