The History of Tattoos

The Beginning of Tattoos Different cultures tattoo for different reasons like, protection, rank in society, adornment of the body and coming of age. Regardless of why people are tattooed, they have been tattooing since before the birth of Christ. Throughout history tattooing has served many purposes. The earliest evidence of tattooing was found in 1991 in the mountains of Austria. An Iceman was found, his bones dated back to 3,300 B. C. which is over 5300 years ago. His skin had signs of blue tattoos. The scientists did not understand the reasons for his tattoos, but counted fifty-eight in total. Wiman-Rudzinski, 2002) Egypt is generally accepted as the birth place of tattoos. Tattoos were widely accepted and were very popular in the culture. They were accepted so much that even children’s dolls had tattoos on them. According to P. Reese (2003), mummies have been recovered dating back to (2160-1944 BC). They found the female Amunet, the priestess of the god Hather. The female had several patterns and designs in the form of dots and lines. Typically, these tattoos placed on the abdomen of a woman to help with fertility.

Often, the reasons for tattooing in this era were to connect with the divine one, for medical or magical protection, to act as a sacrifice, and to tell a story. The popular tattoos in this time period were the God Bes, The tattoo typically appeared on the inner thighs. The tattoo would be a dancer or a musician. The God Ra would be tattooed also; this is the God of Sun. According to George Burchett (1958), from Egypt tattoos spread across the world. Since Egypt closely communicated with Crete, Greece, Persia, and Arabia. By 2000 B. C. , This is how tattoos spread to Western Asia.

Tattoos arrived in Asia around 5000 BC, according to Gilbert (2001) they were used on figurines. These figurines were used as a stand-in for humans in tombs. The figurines had tattoos on them, the tattoos represented religious and magical significance. Later in Japan 297 AD according to P. Reese (2003), they found Japanese text stating men of all ages tattooed their faces and their bodies with Japanese characters. At this time there were writings about tattoos but it was always spoken about in a negative manner. The Japanese said that tattoos were for barbarism and used for punishment.

In the 7th Century Japan adopted much of the Chinese culture and with that came their view of tattoos. In 720 AD was the first record of tattoos being used for punishment. According to Japanese history the emperor summand Hamako, and told him he was being punished to death for plotting rebellion. He originally punished him to death but then decided not to kill him but tattoo him instead. After this in the 6th century tattoos were identified with criminals and outcast. Typically outcast would have tattoos on there arm. The criminals were marked with a pictograph of a dog on their foreheads.

They would also have marks of bars; crosses double lines, and circles on the face and arms. The criminals that were tattooed had to commit serious crimes, and because of this they would then become ostracized by their families and communities. In the Japanese culture your family is very important. So to be punished with a tattoo it would be devastating to a person. By the 17th century tattoos be came more accepted. People had turned to decorative tattoos and used them to cover up the tattoos they received as punishment. Tattoos in the 18th century flourished among the lower class.

They were also used by gangs in hopes to improve their lives. In the 19th century tattoos were outlawed again due to a new emperor. However, under the new law they could not tattoo Japanese people but could tattoo foreigners. The tattoo artists were so revered for there talent people would come from Russia and Europe to get tattooed. Tattooing remained eligible until after WWII when General Macarthur liberalized Japanese law and tattooing became legal again. From the inlands of the world tattoos spread to the islands of the word to the tribes of many different lands.

Tribal tattoos have been used for many reasons. They were used to promote a relationship with a god, and to help then get to the proper spirit world. Tribes also thought that tattoos would give them an advantage when they arrive to the spirit world. Most of the primitive tribes used some form of tattoos, scarification or body painting. For the Samoan men tattooing was a right of passage to manhood. Typical the men were tattooed on the inner and outer thigh area to look like clothing. If a boy did not have the tattoos they were not given the same respect as a man with tattoos.

They could not speak; they could not marry and were not allow doing certain jobs. When missionaries arrived in Polynesian lands they tried to get the Samoans to refrain from tattooing because Christianity frowned upon it. The missionaries wanted the Samoans to live by Christ word but instead they added it to their culture. To this day tattooing is highly respected in the Samoans culture. In Tonga is where the Samoans and the Polynesians tattooed. Tattooing was a way of life to the Polynesians, they were tattooing even before the Europeans came to the South Pacific.

The Polynesians and Samoans had some of the most skillful and intricate tattoos in the entire world. The tattoos typically stood for their religious beliefs and for warfare. Most of their tattoos were geometric shapes. They were tattooed in a way so they could eventually cover the entire body. There were many records of Polynesian tattoos in the 17th and 18th century but nothing in detail. Until Captain Cook arrived in 1769, he described in detail how the Polynesians prepared the ashes for the ink and how it was mixed in a coconut shell.

He also spoke about the instrument pricked the skin deep enough to retain the ink and of how it would be sore for many days. Members of Cooks crew were the first to receive Polynesian tattoos. When they returned home to the men of the British Navy favored them and quickly the fad spread. The sailors also learned how to tattoo from the Polynesians and practiced while out to see. When these men would retire from the Navy then would then open there own tattoo shops across Europe. In the nineteenth century tattoos appeared in Europe. Gilbert (2001) states, tattoos were manly seen on seaman in France.

They were not accepted among the main stream society. The main reason they were not accepted is due to a doctor reporting that a soldier died from a tattoo he received. Of course this was not proven because they did not know what caused infections yet. These seamen that learn how to tattoo while in Japan would travel back to France and tattoo people there. These men would have a tattoo on them to prove that this was there profession. Since they could not prove with a diploma this is what they did they would show there qualifications on their skin.

Soon many of the labors would show what they did the same way. For instance a Gunsmith would have a pistol tattooed on him, a Blacksmith would have an anvil and hammer tattooed to show their craft. Then in 1791, tattooing of this nature was to be abolished. Even though tattoos were outlawed they never stopped. But tattoos were not allowed in the Army and Navy. Since Army and Navy men were the majority of the people getting tattoos at this time, many of the tattoo artists went out of business. Unlike France in Europe tattoos had been around for many years.

According to the P. Reese (2003), it was found that Red Beard, who was the roman King and emperor of Germany from 1152 to 1190 had tattoos on the back of his hands. Germans were found to be the attractions in sideshows on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean because of their tattoos. One of the first tattoo artists in the United States was a German immigrant. The artist’s daughter was one of the first women to be tattooed in the United States in the 1860’s. She and her father traveled along side the Army during the civil war. As they traveled they tattooed the many soldiers.

Rumor has it they were both kidnapped by Chief Sitting Bull. It’s said the Chief forced her father to give her one tattoo every day to earn their freedom. Supposedly, that is why she had 365 tattoos on her body. According to, P. Reese (2003) her father Martin Hildebrandt was as the best tattoo artist of his time. He was also the first person to open a tattoo shop in America. His tattoo shop was located on Oak Street in New York City. Hildebrandt worked from his shop for over 20 years. In 1897 another tattoo shop opened in China Town, the artist Samuel O’Rielly was the owner of the shop.

He was not just a tattoo artist he was also a mechanic and technician. O’Rielly revolutionized tattooing by inventing a hand held automatic tattoo machine. He had the tattoo machine patent in 1891. O’Reilly’s tattoos were in such demand that he took on an apprentice by the name of Charles Wagner. After O’Reilly died in 1908 Wagner took over O’Rielly’s shop in China Town and then made a new improved electronic tattoo machine. During Wagner’s life it was estimated he tattooed over tens of thousands of people, including fifty people that he covered their entire bodies in tattoos.

Wagner tattooed up until his death on January 1, 1953. Today he is recognized as one of the major influences of tattooing in the United States. As history shows tattoos have been present in many societies for thousands of years. Each society has a reason for their tattoos, whether it is for health reasons, like status in the community, for religious reasons, or to show connection to a group. In today’s society tattoos show the individuality of a person and show what they have endured in their lifetime.

Despite the changes in these cultures over time the core reasons for a tattoo have remained similar. What has changed is how society looks at tattoos as they are becoming more accepted every day. References Burchett, G. , & Leighton, P. (1958). Memoirs of a Tattooist: From The Notes, Diaries And Letters Of The Late ‘King Of Tattooist’. Compiled And Edited By Peter Leighton. Crown. Gilbert, S. (2001). The Tattoo history Source Book. Power House Books. Reece, P. (2003). The Vanishing Tattoo. Retreived April 13, 2008, from http://www. vanishingtattoo. com/tattoo_museum/index. html.

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