Site logo

History of Tattoos


It was in 1769 that English Captain James Cook, landing in Tahiti, observed and noted the customs of the local people and transcribed for the first time the word Tattow (later Tattoo), derived from the term “tau-tau,” an onomatopoeia that recalled the noise produced by the tapping of wood on a needle to pierce the skin.
But tattooing is a practice with very ancient origins — origins of more than 5,000 years.


The origins. The oldest known tattoo.

From the ancient times, we have heard about tattoos and their common acceptance by people. The process of getting tattoos involves the ink being driven under the skin by pointed appliance, needle or “machine”.

The oldest evidence comes from the Italian-Austrian border where in 1991, in the Otzalet Alps, the frozen and excellently preserved body of a man who scientists believe lived about 5300 years ago was found.
Otzi, as he was nicknamed, had actual tattoos on various parts of his body, obtained by rubbing pulverized charcoal over vertical incisions in the skin.

X-rays revealed bone degeneration at these cuts, so it is thought that, at the time, people in the area practiced this form of tattooing for therapeutic purposes, to relieve pain.

Tattoos in old cultures.

Even the fossilized mummies were found with tattoos in ancient times. From the ancient years of Egyptians to the modern years, tattoos have been in fashion and seem to have come a long way now. Tattooing, an art belonging to the olden days has acquired a new style nowadays. It seems that tattoos have been present in all the old cultures, with different scopes. Sometimes they were used to differentiate different social ranks, in other cultures they were a symbol of power, or designed to protect and heal a person.



As time went on, however, tattooing took on other meanings.
Ancient Egyptian funerary paintings show tattoos on the bodies of female dancers, tattoos also found on some female mummies (2000 B.C.).


For example, the symbol of Moko in New Zealand’s Maori depicts that it is a symbol of power and bravery and is hard earned membership to be in a tribe.

The application of tattoos to the wearer could also indicate that he or she is cut off from the society. It might also show his or her membership in a particular tribe or race.

Tattoos and the art of tattooing holds different meanings in different cultures. Some people suggest that it was the art performed for bewitching or conjuring while others say that tattoos were used for their curing qualities.


Tattoos come back to Europe.

While places like North and South America celebrated tattoos, catholic beliefs  forbade body ornamentation. The church condemned tattoos as being primitive and pagan. The Asiatic and Polynesian cultures helped to keep the history of tattoo during the European middle age.

The great explorer Captain James Cook was the first who stepped in the islands of Polynesia. He came back to Europe with the word tattoo and the samples of the tribal art imprinted on the chests and arms of the sailors. He was, practically, the first man that brought back the use of Tattoos to Europe, after several centuries and censorship.

The modern Tattoos

The great American Samuel O’Reilly invented the first electric machine for tattoo in the year 1900. It was a big hit and this invention acquired immense popularity in the United States and in other parts of the world. Majority of the tattoo artists were from other countries with clientele including non mainstream society.

But the general and regular masses were quite charmed with the tattoo designs. Their captivating emotions for the art could be seen as they queued up at various carnivals and other shows to witness the great tattooed bodies of men or women.

Many respected people however never thought about getting a tattoo imprinted on their bodies. In fact, tattoos were considered to be inferior and thought to be associated with criminals, sailors and alcoholic people.

The tattoos have been used by many people on the borderline of society like prisoners and gang members for whom these are the symbols of brotherhood or affiliation of the outlaws. In the 1980s, people who were rebelling against the mainstream proudly claimed for the tribal tattoos and since then tattoos have gained visibility in other cultures.

Application of tattoos along with crack ups or piercing by many people was a symbol of they trying to parting away from the society. Still nowadays, many people love to belong to their communities and use tribal symbols which also reflect their subculture.

Tattoos nowadays

In the past few decades, it has become quite normal to wear tattoos. Though, in several countries, it is still hard to get a job if you wear tattoos, and if some employers force employees to cover them during working shifts, when they are in contact with the public.

This applies to banks, hotels, retail stores, resorts, airlines…

It is estimated that about 20% of the young population of European countries have at least one tattoo, and the percentage seems to be growing. There are now many styles of tattoos and a tattooer is now a real artist. Now, people get tattoos for different reasons: because they represent a specific event of their life, to celebrate a friendship or a particular event, or simply, because they like it.

Having a tattoo no longer means being a criminal or a person who wants to stay away from society. However, people with tattoos somehow feel close to each others, in particular if they share the same style of tattoos. They are, somehow, part of a modern “tribe”.

It is also normal to crave and get addicted to tattoos. You really can’t stop yourself once you get it imprinted. Tattooing on one’s body in today’s times holds a unique place of its own by depicting that beauty lies deep in the skin.


  • No comments yet.
  • Add a comment

    Leave a review for your favorite Tattoo Studio and win 50 €!

    50 € every week to the most creative review!