History of Tattoos


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 frozen mummified remains of the “Ice Man” of central Europe is the oldest verifiable example of Tattoo. It is a frozen legacy that dates back to five thousand years ago. Ice Man is the factual example of the history of tattoo. However, it is an assumption interwoven with facts, as with historical topic.

Ice Man was discovered in 1992 in the northern Italian Alps and was estimated to have lived around 3300 BC . Approximately, 57 tattoos were found on the ankles, back of the knees and lower back. The Ice Man had the tattoos for medicinal purposes, possibly an ancient acupuncture. Tattoos have been found in many cultures worldwide, including Ainu, Mayan, Aztec, Norse, Greek and Saxon.

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.

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.

The origin of the word “Tattoo” and its etymology.

The word tattoo has been extracted from the Polynesian word “tatao” which means “to tap”. The word suggests how sharp-edged pin points immersed with colors were stroked into the skin to make different patterns for different tribes.

Polynesians have a common thread when it comes to tattoos. They believe that a person’s spirit or life force can be represented in their tattoo and thus it has a tremendous significance among their society.

In 1200 AD, many Polynesians migrated to New Zealand and became known as the Maori. They had developed this culture significantly towards the end of the 18th century. The development and use of tattoo was one aspect of their culture. This culture was known as Moko. They use the tattoo to depict tribal affiliation, societal stays and ancestry.

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.


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