Tattoos have been around for centuries. Unbeknownst to many, it has a rich and fascinating history spread across many cultures. Contributing different styles and tools to the art, these cultures are the foundation of today’s tattoo scene. True, most aspects of the craft have changed, but you still see hints of the past in recent designs.
A little digging also shows us that tattoos were used for many reasons among different ancient societies. From a way of worship to a method of healing, they were a crucial part of many early civilizations. They were so important that many specialists today use them to get an insight into past eras, proving once and for all that every tattoo has a story behind it.
If the History of Tattoos intrigues you, much like myself, you are going to enjoy this article. Starting with the oldest piece of evidence for ancient tattoo practice known to modern man, we will visit the pages of history and figure out how much the art of tattooing has changed throughout the centuries.
Otzi The Iceman
While most mummified human remains show proof of ancient tattoo practices, the glory for the oldest tattoo (or oldest piece of evidence) goes to Otzi the Iceman.
Found embedded in an ice glacier in the Otzal Alps, the body contained 61 tattoos. Well, I don’t know about you, but him being over 5000 years old rocking 61 tattoos makes him pretty cool in my books. Anyway, these tattoos were found in various places, with the majority being on his legs. Scientists believe the markings were etched by peeling the top layer of the skin and applying charcoal over it.
Further, they believe the tattoos might be a form of medical treatment, as most of the markings were found in places that showed ailments. Design-wise the tattoos are nothing fancy, but just horizontal and vertical lines. But then again, they were probably carved for therapeutic reasons and not for style.
Despite Otzi the iceman hogging all the glory for the earliest tattoo, we also find ample evidence for tattoo practices throughout different eras and civilizations.
During the earliest civilizations, tattoos were regarded as a way of worship. They were also carved to distinguish tribes and to display various barbaric accomplishments. One such barbaric act was headhunting, which was common among but not limited to, many tribes found in Europe, Central Africa, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. The art of tattooing was also prominent among the people of Samoa and Polynesian islands, who are credited for coining the term “Tattoo” or “Tatau”.
Ancient Egypt too held high regard for tattooing. While most civilizations had different reasons for inking, some believe that Egypt was among the first to tattoo themselves for decoration. But there’s also evidence to support that the craft may have been used for medical purposes, just like in India. Some theories even suggest that Egypt spread the craft of tattooing to other civilizations found in Arabia, Rome, and Greece through trade.
But as time moved on, most cultures deemed tattoos as uncivilized. The spread of Christianity in Europe changed the way people thought. They embraced a religious-fueled society and associated tattoos with the pagan way of life. The East was no different. With different ideologies spreading throughout the land, tattoos lost their appeal in most eastern civilizations. Ancient Chinese literature shows that tattoos were used to brand criminals and that the technique was common among bandits as well as heroes. This take on tattoos spread across most Asian countries and still hold true to this day.
How Tattoos Carved Into Modern Society
Although Europe took a strong stand against tattoos, explorers like Captain James Cook started bringing back tattooed indigenous people, exposing the society to the craft again. And as time flew by, sailors and other low-class men adopted the art of tattooing. A few decades afterward, it became popular among the rich and eventually spread across Europe. Later, with various conquests and explorations, the craft spread far and wide to different continents.
Along with this, the invention of the first electric tattoo machine in 1891 by Samuel F O’Reilly brought about a new era for tattoos. Suddenly, getting a tattoo became more efficient and a lot less painstaking. And with the introduction of tattoo parlors, it became a trend.
Today, the art of tattooing is widely celebrated as a form of expression. People accept it as a part of society, and there’s a lot less social stigma attached to it. It is also a billion-dollar industry that generates massive profits each year. All things considered, it’s quite safe to say that tattoos are finally here to stay and that we can enjoy the practice for years to come.