History of Tattoo

History of Tattoo

History of Tattoos

Lets talk about history of tattoo and how it all started. Tattoo without a doubt is one of the man’s earliest and most ubiquitous forms of art. If you have a tattoo, you are part of art practice that dates back to more than 12,000 years BC. Evidence from mummified preserved skin, archaeological records and ancient art reveal that tattoo has been practiced across the globe since at least since the times of the Neolithic.

For centuries, different cultures have practiced the art of embedding permanent dyes in their bodies as mystical wards, rites of passage, status symbols or simply as personal decoration. That tradition has been passed down till the recent time although with much less chance of infection.

Historians believed that the word “tattoo” was coined from the Tahitian word “tatu” which means “to mark something” and was introduced into Europe by the English explorer called James Cook. The reason and purpose of tattooing varies from one culture to another.

The oldest known tattoo on human skin dates back to 3300 BC which was found on a mummified body known as “Otzi the Iceman”. The body was discovered from the area of the Italian-Australian border in 1991. The tattoo on the body of Otzi bears the oldest example of tattooing to have ever been discovered but historians aren’t sure whether Otzi tattoos are evidence of acupuncture or done for decorative purposes.

The art of tattooing spread throughout Egypt and Rome in the ancient time. Egyptian women of upper-class and priestesses have series of dots on their thighs, abdomen and even their breasts. Scientists believed that tattoos by the Egyptian women are meant to protect them during pregnancy as the abdominal drawings would expand to cover the woman’s belly as it grew.

History of Tattoo

The spread of tattoo to Rome wasn’t meant to stay, in about 316 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine permanently ban the practice of facial tattooing because “man was created in the image of God and facial tattoo is a defilement and disgrace to the divine.” Romans at some point were using tattoos to mark criminals and slaves.

The art of Tattooing was popular among Native American tribes, they used tattoo as a religious insignia or as medals to show their victory in war. Both the strong young and old men who participated in war or raid use their own bodies as scoreboards to keeps scores of every head they’d taken by notching their skin and rubbing it in coal or okra. The Inuit tribe used tattoo to beautify themselves and to give themselves a peaceful afterlife.

Tribal Tattoo

In Greece, tattoo was used as a symbol of communication among spies. It was believed that tattoo is used to identify spies and also to show their ranks. The people of Ainu, in the western Asia, used tattooing to show their social status. Girls that have attained puberty were marked to announce their new place in the society, as were the married women. The Ainu tribe introduced the art of tattooing to Japan, were they used it as religious and ceremonial rite. Women were tattooist in Bomeo, as part of their cultural tradition. These women designed tattoo symbols that show the owner’s social status and tribe he belonged to.

Tattoo thrived in Japan as it diminished in the West. In the beginning, it was used to mark criminals. Later, they escalated the art of tattooing into an aesthetic art form. In Japan, only the royalty were allowed to wear ornate clothing, which leaves the middle class no choice than to adorn themselves with elaborate full body tattoos.

History of Tattoo


Tattoo in Religions

Among the major three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism), none of them fully accepted the practice of tattooing even till today. In 782, Pope Hadrian 1 forbade Christians from ever getting a tattoo, however, the practice survived in secret especially in some places where Christians worship such as the Sanctuary of Loreto, in which the “Friars-Tatttooist” (Frati-marcatori) tattoo, a small devotional sign to the pilgrim, was used.

Tattoo in America

One in 5 Americans has a tattoo, according to a Nielson poll, and more than 80% of this number never regret getting tattooed. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been this way. Tattoos were once strongly frowned upon and considered as taboo in the West.

In 1769, British explorer Capt. James Cook came back with tales of tattoo after an expedition to Tahiti and New Zealand. Later on, in 1846, Martin Hildebrandt opens the first known U.S tattoo parlor in New York. His clients mostly consist of soldiers going to the Civil War who wants to remind themselves of their lives back home. In 1890s, Martin’s daughter rose to fame when she toured with the Barnum and Bailey Circus as the Tattooed Lady.

Samuel O’Reilly Invented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891, inspired by Thomas Edison’s autographic printing pen. Till today, most of the modern tattoo machines still largely depend on O’Reilly’s first tattoo machine design.

Because of fear of spread of hepatitis B and other diseases, the New York City banned tattooing in 1961 with the introduction of “health code violation” which led to the closing of tattoo shops in Times Square and Coney Island. The ban made tattoo in New York illegal and gave it a bad reputation. The ban did not completely halt the art of tattooing, as tattoo artists went underground, however only few people wanted tattoo. The remaining tattoo artists moved their shops to New Jersey and Philadelphia where tattoo was still legal.

The ban on tattoo was lifted in 1997 and New York hosts its first Tattoo Convention three months later after the tattoo ban was lifted. In 2006, the Scientists at Harvard University developed a new erasable tattoo link. This gain popularity because it can easily be removed by lasers but cannot wash off in shower.

Tattoo is increasing in popularity every day. More people have come to accept tattoo. There are different styles of tattoo you can get from various tattoo artists. People use tattoo for various reasons, for beauty and for more intimate personal reasons.

Take a look at this infographic to learn about timeline of tattoo’s

History of Tattoo - Timeline

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