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Tattoo History

This History of Tattoos “Tattoo is a term applied to the practice of permanently marking the skin by injecting or puncturing the dermis and embedding an indelible pigment” (Campbell. N. P). Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These everlasting designs: sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, but always personal have served as status symbols, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment. In 1991, the oldest recorded tattoos belong to Otzi the iceman, whose mummified remains discovered in the Otztal Alps between Italy and Austria. ” According to anthropologist, Nina Jablonski from Penn State, the iceman died around 3300 B. C. “The skin is of great interest because it bears several tattoos: a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines 15 centimeters long above the kidneys and numerous lines on the ankles”(Gilbert Pg. 11).

Whether we look at tattoos with awe or disgust, admiration or disapproval, it is a simple fact that tattooing is practiced all over the world and has been for thousands of years; Tattoos are everywhere, every tattoo has a different meaning, some for religious beliefs, forms of punishment, signs of masculinity, even to fit into a certain society or just to be an outcast, but till this day everyone still gets tattooed. In Egypt, earlier Egyptologists influenced by prevailing social attitudes toward the medium have virtually ignored written records, physical remains, and works of art relevant to Egyptian tattoo. Today however, we know that there have been bodies recovered dating to as early as the six Dynasty, exhibiting the art form of tattoo. In 1891, archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor. Amunet’s life dated back to 4160 BC” (Egyptian World N. P). This female mummy displayed several lines and dots tattooed about her body – grouping dots and or dashes aligned into abstract geometric patterns. “The implements used, clay and sharp bone needles to make tattoos” (Egyptian World N. P).

This art form was restricted to women only, and usually these women were associated with ritualistic practice. Egyptian tattooing, sometimes related to the sensual, erotic, and emotional side of life, and these themes found in tattooing today. The Egyptians spread the practice of tattooing throughout the world. By 2,000 BC, the art of tattooing had stretched out all the way to Southeast Asia. The Ainu (western Asian nomads) then brought it with them as they moved to Japan. In Japan, the earliest evidence of tattooing is found in the form of figurines made of clay that have faces painted or engraved to represent tattoo marks. The oldest figurines of this kind of been recovered from tombs dated 5,000BC or older, and many other figurines have been found in tombs dating from the second and third millennia BC” (Gilbert Pg. 77). The tools used in Japanese tattooing consisted of bamboo and metal. The Bamboo is crafted for the wooded handle of the tool and steel or other metal creates a tight bundle of needles that are fixed at one end of the tool. The first record of Japanese tattooing found in a Chinese dynastic history compiled in 297 AD.

By the early seventeenth century, the rulers of Japan adopted plenty of the cultures of the Chinese, resulting in the disliking of the decorative tattooing identified. The first documented tattooing as a form of punishment in Japan was in 720 AD. By the late seventeenth century, a general code to recognize criminals and outcast was widely used. “Outcasts were tattooed on the arms, and the criminals were marked with a variety of symbols that designated the place where the crimes were committed” (Krcmarik N. P).

By the end of the seventeenth century, other forms of punishment replaced penal tattooing. The reason was that decorative tattooing became popular, and criminals covered their punishment tattoos with larger decorative patterns. In the eighteenth century, pictorial tattooing blossomed in connection with the popular culture of Edo, now called Tokyo. Publishers needed samples for their novels and theatres needed advertisements for their plays. The Japanese developed wood blocks to meet their needs. The wood block prints, had great influence on the development of the art of tattooing.

Traditional Japanese tattoo differs from Western tattoos in that is consists of a single major design that covers the back and extends onto the arms, legs and chest. The design requires a major commitment of time, money, and emotional energy. Each design is associated with a characteristic such as loyalty, devotion, courage, or obligation and by being tattooed the individual symbolically makes these virtues part of himself. Tattoos were gaining popularity in England among the wealthy in the same period. “In 1691, English explorer William Dampier brought a tattooed man from the South Pacific back with him to England.

Prince Giolo also known as Painted Prince, he was brought to London to be exhibited as a curiosity” (Reybold Pg. 15). “He was painted all down the Breast, between his Shoulders behind; on his Thighs (mostly) before; and in the form of several broad Rings, or Bracelets around his Arms and Legs. I cannot liken the drawings to any figure of animals, or the like; but they were very curious, full of great variety of Lines, Flourishes, Checkered Work & keeping a very graceful Proportion and appearing very Artificial, even to wonder, especially that upon and between his shoulders-blades. ” (DeMello pg. 29).

The journey to London was exhausting, arriving in poor health; he then soon died from smallpox leaving no chance for the English owners to profit from his tattoos. “In 1774, another explorer, Captain James Cook returned to London with Omai, a Polynesian man covered with tattoos” (Krcmarik N. P. ). Tattooing was particularly common in cultures around Polynesia and the pacific area, and the word used in the English language today stems from this area. “Before the arrival of Europeans in the South Pacific, Polynesian tattooing was the most complex and skillful tattooing in the ancient world” (Gilbert Pg. 1). As Polynesians made their way across the pacific, they left a record of their expeditions in the form of pottery and other artifacts dating back to 1500 B. C. “Lapita pottery is of special interest for the history of tattooing because it provides us with the oldest evidence as to the nature of the ancient Polynesian tattoo designs” (Gilbert Pg. 22). Much of the designs consisted of V-Shaped elements, interlocking geometrical patterns and stylized motifs resembling masks and sea creatures.

The instruments used by the Polynesian consist of flat, chisel-shaped pieces of bone measuring two or four centimeters in length and filed sharp at one end to form a comb like series of point teeth. The tool was attached to the end of a long wooden handle, then dipped in a black pigment and tattooed on the skin using a mallet to strike the too. “In Polynesian countries such as Hawaii, New Zealand, the Marquesas, Samoa, and Melanesian Fiji, the people, while not sharing a cultural reason, exhibit a strong similarity as tattoos is used as a means of expression and communication within society” (Rio Pg. 3). “In the Gilbert Islands, the girls in Fiji have tattoos that serve as rites of passage when they reached their adolescence. On other islands tattoos served as status symbols to identify, the upper class from the lower class, and tattoos also allowed them to participate in certain ceremonies” (Krcmarik N. P). Tattooing spread among Western societies when soldiers and sailors returning from conquest and trade imitated the practices they had seen among the indigenous people of Asia, Africa, and the South Pacific.

Working class men in Europe and America wore tattoos primarily as a symbol of tough masculine pride throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “Martin Hildebrandt was the first professional tattoo artist in the United States, who opened his studio in New York City in 1846 tattooing many soldiers and sailors. Hildebrandt also tattooed a number of tattooed attractions. Nora, the daughter of Hildebrandt said to have 365 tattoos (one for each day of the year” (DeMello N. P). These attractions alongside with soldiers, and sailors were the main channel to American Society. In the 1870s, P. T. Barnum brought tattooed attractions into the American circus, and beginning in the first decade of the twentieth century, tattooed people moved onto the carnival midway” (DeMello N. P). “Hildebrandt’s success with his New York studio inspired others to imitate him, and soon he had a formidable rival in Samuel O’Reilly, who established a studio at Chatham Square, in the Chinatown area of the Bowery in 1875” (Gilbert Pg. 126). At this time all tattooing done by hand, the instruments used by Hildebrandt, O’Reilly and their peers were a set of needles attached to a wooden handle.

The artist dipped the needles in ink and moved his hand up and down smoothly piercing the skin two or three times per second. Not only was O’Reilly a competent artist he was a mechanic and a technician. “In 1891, O’Reilly patented the first electric tattooing machine, Based on Edison’s electric pen, which punctured paper with a needlepoint, the basic design with moving coils, a tube and a needle bar, are the components of today’s tattoo gun”(Reybold Pg. 17). “The United States became the center of influence in tattoo designs, especially with the spread of U. S. tattooist pattern sheets” (Encyclopedia Britannica N. P).

O’Reilly’s invention of the electric tattoo machine, the process of tattooing became faster and less painful. The rise of America’s circus attractions became more evident, they would go see O’Reilly to get a full-body tattoo so they could earn a living in the circus. “With O’Reilly’s invention, this allowed the artist to use a multiple needles at once for outlining and shading (as opposed to the single needle used in old-fashioned pricking). The true Americana style of tattooing was born: strong black lines typically made with five (or more) needles, heavy black shading, and a dab of color (first black and red, and ater, green and blue became available. )”(DeMello N. P). Working-class men with no artistic background were the American tattooist in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They were sign painters who learned to tattoo on the circus circuit. Other tattooist learned the trade by paying older tattoo artist to teach them how to properly fix and use the machines. “The most talented and prolific of the early American tattoo artist was Charles Wagner, who was born in 1875 (the same year O’Reilly opened his Studio)”(Gilbert Pg. 127).

Wagner told a journalist Albert Perry that he became interested in tattooing when he saw a tattooed circus attraction. After practicing in a tailor shop for a few years, Wagner was fortunate to be an apprentice to O’Reilly. During his apprenticeship, most of his clients were seamen, and superstition played a large part in their tattoo design. In 1908, Samuel O’Reilly died, and Wagner took over the Chatham Square studio. Wagner patented his own improved electric tattoo machine, which he sold to aspiring tattoo artist by mail along with ink and design sheets. “Wagner introduced many innovations.

He was the first American tattoo artist who successfully practiced the cosmetic tattooing of women’s lips, cheeks, and eyebrows” (DeMello N. P). However, his strength was the design of large pieces and full body coverage. He continued to tattoo until the day he died January 1, 1953. Today, Wagner is recognized as a major influence in the classic American style of tattooing. WORKS CITED 1. “Tattoo” The Grove Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts. Campbell, Gordon Oxford University. Press 2006. http://www. oxfordrefernce. com. lsproxy. austincc. edu/views/ENTRY. html? subview=Main&entry=t220. e3289 2. Jablonski, Nina Ph. D.

Skin: A Natural History University of California. October 2006. http://www. rps. psu. edu/probing/tattoing. html 3. Gilbert, Steve. Tattoo History: An anthology of historical records of tattooing throughout the world. USA: Juno Books, LLC. , 2000 4. “Tattoos of the Egyptian World” University of Southern California http://www. usc. edu/dept/LAS/religion/arc/writing_body/Egyptian. html 5. Reybold, Laura. Everything You Need to Know About: THE DANGER OF TATTOOING AND BODY PIERCING New York: The Rosen Publishing Group. , 1996 6. Rio, Dale. , Eva Bianchini, Tattoo USA: Courage Books. , 2004 7. Krcmarik L, Katherine.

Tattooing Around the World: Tattooing in Japan and the East. Michigan State University. 2003 http://www. msu. edu/~Krcmari1/individual/wor_Japan. html 8. Krcmarik L, Kathering. History of Tattooing: Tattooing in the 1800s Michigan State University. 2003 http://www. msu. edu 9. “tattoo” Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica Online Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010 http://search. eb. com/lsproxy. austincc. edu/eb/article-9071393 10. DeMello, Margo. “Encyclopedia of Body Adornment: America Tattooing. ” Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007 Pop Culture Universe. Greenwood Publishing Group

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