Tattoos: a Brief History

Tattoos: A Brief History Angela Ramsey COM/150 December 13, 2009 Brett Stamer Tattoo: in Tahitian, the word “tatau” literally means to mark something. The Samoan word, “tatua” open wound or some other form of small wound. Even though tattoos are gaining in popularity today, history has shown that they have been around for thousands of years. There have been many indicators of early works of art on the body. These include finding mummies with tattoos and crude tattooing instruments. Some of these finds have shown that tattoos have existed since before the time of Christ.

These early works of art found on the body and the instruments used are just a few of the points to explore when looking at the history of tattoos. On that note, we will begin our look at the fascinating history of one of the most misunderstood rituals of our time. For starters, we will look at some of the reasons for tattoos. Skin was the first canvas for art. Historically, tattoos were created to beautify, shock, or humiliate people. They were also used for magical protection, to relieve pain, and to proclaim valor. Tattoos have profound and universal psyche origins.

They have been related to the sensual, erotic, and emotional aspects of the human psyche. In many cultures, tattoos have been associated with magic, totems, and for an individual to become identified with the spirit of an animal. Animals were, and still are, the most frequent subject matter (www. vanishingtattoo. com). It is believed that having an animal tattoo brought protection from being attacked from the very same animal (www. thetattoocollection. com). Tattoos were also used as a form of punishment to mark convicts and criminals. “Tax paid” was tattooed on slaves sold to Asia from Ancient Greece and Rome (www. ssociatedcontent. com). Members of the military get tattoos in honor of their country, family, and the branch of the military they belong to. There are other reasons for tattoos. These include group solidarity, independence, vengeance, status in certain cultures, and religion. In the Bible, is says, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord. ” (Leviticus 19:28). However, people from the Middle Ages who went on their pilgrimages to the Holy Land would return with tattoos. It was the only way they could prove that they had actually been there.

They ranged from the simple cross to more elaborate ones like the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, Peter and the crowing cock, and St. George’s victory over the dragon. These tattoos were from the Coptic Priests. The designs were kept on woodblocks and the work was rough. (www. vanishingtattoo. com). Moslem pilgrims who visited Mecca and Medina also received commemorative tattoos. They believed that by being cremated upon death, they would be purified by fire before entering paradise. In ancient history, tattooing was a funeral art. People believed that the spirit resembled an invisible human body.

Tattoos were applied to allow the spirit into the spirit world undisturbed by evil entities. It is also believed that the right tattoo ensured prompt passage to the other side and a guaranteed positive occupation in the spirit world. (www. thetattoocollection. com). Now that we have established why tattoos were gotten by ancient people, let us take a look at some of the instruments used for tattooing. One of the earliest instruments found was from the Upper Paleothic period (30,000 to 10,000 BC). Typically, it consisted of a disk made of clay and red ochre together with sharp bone needles inserted into holes at the top of the disk.

This served as both the reservoir and source of pigment. (www. vanishingtattoo. com). Other early methods include picks, rakes, combs, and chisels that cut or punctured the skin before pigment was added. Even open wounds rubbed by hands covered in ashes from the fires would leave permanent marks. Tattoo equipment has developed tremendously from these archaic means. Starting with Thomas Edison’s electric engravers, Samuel O’Reilly took Edison’s idea of puncturing paper with a needle point to puncturing the skin and inserting ink. (www. tattooarchive. com).

Today, “tattoo guns”, as they have become to be known, can finish an impressive piece of work in a matter of hours instead of days or weeks. So far we have covered some of the historical reasons for obtaining tattoos and have touched on the different ways to obtain them throughout history. Let us turn our attention, now, to some of the earliest documented cases of tattoos. The earliest documented case of tattoos found on humans was discovered in October 1991. Found in the Tyrolean Alps (between Austria and Italy) Oetzi, also known as the “Ice Man,” was found. He is believed to be approximately 12,000 years old.

He is the oldest known human to have, what are considered, medicinal tattoos. In all, Oetzi has 57 tattoos including a cross on his the inside of his left knee, six straight lines fifteen centimeters in length above his kidneys, and numerous small, parallel lines along the lumbar, legs, and around the ankles. These are believed to possible therapeutic tattoos. The consensus is that they were used to alleviate pain due to arthritis. (www. vanishingtattoo. com). In the second half of the 20th century, three tattooed mummies (c. 300BCE) were recovered from the permafrost of Altai. “The Man of Pazuryk” was found during the 1940’s.

He was a Scythian chieftain who was tattooed with an extensive and detailed range of animals, monsters, and a series of dots along the spinal column and the right ankle. (wikipedia. org). The other two mummies were a female and a male found in Ukok plateau during the 1990’s. Armed with all this information, you may be asking yourselves “what about tattoos today? ” People today sometimes get tattoos for the same reasons as people in ancient times. They could get them for religious reasons, to show their status in a group, or only for decorative purposes. Tattoos have different meanings and purposes to the individual who obtains the tattoo.

It may be as simple as wanting one or as complex as reaching certain status in your culture. The reality is that tattoos have become a mainstay in all cultures throughout the world. The only problem lies in the fact that people with tattoos have been discriminated against throughout history. However, if we take into account what we have learned in this brief look of the history of tattoos, we will see that there is a multitude of reasons for obtaining this particular form of “art. ” If we are to take history at face value, we need to embrace all of history.

We should not only consider what society mandates, but everything that makes us who we are. To consider anything less is an affront to all that we have been taught. Tattoos have been around for a long time and are not going away. While they may be offensive to some, people who have tattoos consider them works of art and a way of life. People, in general, find tattoos fascinating. They might not always consider tattoos as works of art, but you need to keep in mind everything that goes into getting a tattoo. It takes someone with imagination to come up with an idea and someone bold enough to make that idea a reality. There is also a great pportunity for artists to get their work into the world with tattoos. Tattoos and tattoo artists are now the sixth-fastest-growing retail business in the United States. (www. thetattoocoolection. com). It is the most popular with middle-aged women. Not only is tattooing recognized by the government as art, is also considered a profession. Not only is tattoo-relate artwork considered to be fine art, tattoo designs are the subject of museum and gallery art shows across the United States, Canada, and Europe, (www. thetattoocollection. com). The choices today are as varied as opinions. You can get anything from a famous artists work (i. e.

The Mona Lisa) to an original piece of work. People may ask why it is important to know the history about tattoos. Society has taught people to believe that tattoos are only for gangs, bikers, and other people of questionable reputations. History shows other reasons for tattoos. Tattoos have been around since before the time of Christ. Many people got tattoos for religious reasons. Many people get tattoos to show their commitment to one thing or another. My daughter got her first tattoo (at 18) to show her commitment to the arts (theater, acting and dancing). Society as a whole would benefit knowing how and why tattoos came into existence.

Tattoos are not just a “sign of the devil,” as I have heard said in the past. They are a form of expression, artistic ability, and personal preference. One day we will overcome the stereotypes of tattoos and people will be more accepting. This is the main point of learning the history of tattoos and why and how they came about. References Joy, Jenne, Tattoos: Where Did They Come From retrieved from www. associatedcontent. com History of Tattooing www. wikipedia. org Tattoo Archive www. tattooarchive. com The Tattoo Collection www. tattoocollectio. com Leviticus, the Holy Bible (19:28)

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