Believe it or not tattooing has been around for approximately 5,300 years! How do we know this? Well a naturally mummified body of a man dubbed “Ötzi the Iceman” was found September 1991 in the Ötztal Alps by Hauslabjoch pass. The mummy had 57 tattoos on his body that are believed to have been treatment for arthritis. Scientists dated Ötzi to be from approximately 3300 BC making Ötzi Europe’s oldest mummy and oldest known tattooed person.
Hauslabjoch is a pass that lies between the border of Austria and Italy.
Before Ötzi was found Russians found mummies that are believed to be over 2,400 years old. They where found on the Altai Mountains of Siberia, their tattoos depicted both real and fictional animals.
Now that we some what know how long the art of tattooing has been around let’s learn a little about the history of the tattoo in different parts of the world.
We’ll start off with Samoa, considering the actual word “tattoo” is thought to be derived from the Samoan word “tatau”. Samoans have been practicing tattooing for for over 2,000 years, the male tattoo is called pe’a and the female tattoo is called the malu. The tattoo artist or tufuga traditionally learnt his trade from his own father and usually spent hours tapping designs into sand and tree bark using a tool called au made from boars teeth, a tortoise shell, and a wooden handle.
The pain while receiving the tattoo was immense, but backing down from receiving the tattoo was frowned upon and anyone who did was labeled a coward. Any one who could not complete their tattoo were forced to wear the incomplete tattoo as a mark of shame.
Tattooing in Japan has been thought to have started at around 10,000 BCE, originally used for decorative and spiritual purposes. Starting in the early 1600s through the late 1800s tattooing was only practice by a certain group of people called ukiyo-e, examples of these people would be Firemen, Prostitutes, and manual workers. The tattoos they had where there to show the persons status.
Between this time the government started tattooing criminals one ring on the arm for each crime.
Eventually the Meji government stopped doing this, in fact they banned the art of tattooing all together saying it was barbaric and something that could not be respected.
This eventually led the way to the Japanese mafia “Yakuza” to be created and even now tattoos are worn by members of the Yakuza often covering a large portion of their backs.
In China tattooing is considered barbaric, and it was often used to mark slaves or prisoners. Han Chinese believe that the human body is a gift and damaging it with tattoos and piercings is offensive, therefore it is not accepted by the community.
Tattooing was practiced extensively in ancient Egypt and we have the mummies to prove it! They also used a form of temporary tattooing called Mehndi that uses the Henna plant to make ink. This is still very popular in Egypt and India.
Muslims believe the human body is a work of art already perfected by god, therefore they believe modifying it is wrong.
Tattooing may have started thousands of years ago, but it is still very much alive in modern society, and now that you know a little bit about it’s extensive history maybe you’ll appreciate the art of tattooing a little more.