Where Tattoo Came From? – A complete history of Tattoo
Tattooing is no more an outlandish art. You can easily find people with tattoos in and around your location. In fact, the craze for this peppy artwork has increased worldwide, in the past few decades. Tattoos are both temporary and permanent. But temporary tattoos do not stay on body after a certain period. Whereas, permanent tattoos stays forever on the body. More often than not people prefer to go for permanent tattoos. BUT!
Do you ever wonder where this beautiful art of tattooing really originated from? What is the history behind this amazing body artwork?
Let’s know… the history behind…
Well, we all know that tattooing is an ancient art, an art, which belongs to many different cultures across the world. Let’s know how, where, and when it originated. In this article, we will not only know about the background of the tattoo art, but also we will focus on how this art evolved since then along with the societal attitude towards this beautiful body artwork.
When was first tattoo done?
It is believed that the oldest known tattoo on a human skin to date is found between 3370 BC and 3100 BC. The Tattoos were first found on the mummified skin. Ötzi, the Iceman, who was reckoned between 3370 and 3100 BC, had 61 tattoos of simple dots and lines on various parts of his body, made with carbon ink. Ötzi’s body was found in the Otzal Alps and hence he got this nickname Otzi after the name of the Alp.
Otzi’s physical remains are still intact, and has been naturally mummified and preserved. Basically, Otzi the Iceman was discovered in the year 1991, it is also said that his body makes him Europe’s oldest human mummy.
He has six straight lines on his lower back, a black cross on the inner side of his left knee, few parallel lines on his ankles, legs, and wrists. It is found that majority of the ink inscriptions are on his legs. After the close examination of the inked parts on the mummy, it was found that soot or fireplace ash were used to create those lines and cross shaped tattoos. However, when his body was X-rayed by the scientists, it was found that he had joint disease under each tattoo, which makes them believe that these tattoos were done to relieve his pain.
Well, that’s not it. Otzi may be the first person with tattoos known to mankind, but even the other eras and ages has a long and rich history of tattooing. And this is very much evident from over 49 different places around the world, where tattooed remains and mummies are been discovered. And the major locations where the evidence of ancient tattoos on human remains are recorded, includes; Alaska, China, Egypt, Greenland, Mongolia, Philippines, Russia, and Sudan. However, all these discoveries are from different periods of time altogether, in fact some of them are even before 2100 BC.
Theory Behind The Art Of Tattooing
It is discovered that in ancient times people have different theories depending upon their location and culture, for which they used to tattoo themselves.
Tattoos in different cultures:
→ Tattoo in Ancient Egypt
Tattoo practice in Egypt is around 2000 BC old which is evident from the discoveries of tattooed mummies from ancient Egypt in the place. Some theories behind these tattoos found on the mummies indicate that the art was done for decorative purposes. One of the researchers ‘Daniel Fouquet’ suggests that, in ancient times people in Egypt were perhaps inked for a medical treatment.
After examining the scars found on mummified body of the priestess Hathor, he further suggested that the markings were probably done for the treatment of pelvic peritonitis. Also, there is another very interesting discovery about tattoo artwork from ancient Egypt is that, the practice was only carried out on women’s’ body.
And the reason behind this theory is that there are no enough evidence neither physical nor artistic, that men’s body was also tattooed in ancient Egypt. Further, during the Meroitic period, between 300 BC and 400 CE the practice was changed, when Nubian men got their bodies tattooed.
→ Tattoo in Ancient Asia & China
Cemeteries across western China in the province of Xinjiang have found a number of tattooed mummies. Some mummies are supposed to be older than 2100 BC, while some are considerably younger, maybe around 550 BC old. During ancient China the practice of tattooing one’s body was condemned and considered a barbaric act during that period.
Also, it is said that in ancient China people who were criminals or were involved in bad activities were tattooed purposely on their face, and it was done as a mark of defame for the person and to caveat others not to trust the person with tattoo on face.
The mummy of Apo Anno, was discovered in the Philippines & was preserved for over 400 years.
→ Tattoo in Ancient Samoa
It is believed that the modern-day English word ‘tattoo’ was originated from the Samoan word for tattoo ‘tatau’. Tattooing has been an integral part of Samoan cultural traditions for thousands of years now. If you don’t believe this, then you need to visit the history of Samoa to know how tattooing had always been an integral part of social culture back then.
Moreover, the practice of giving and receiving tattoos by hand in Samoa is more than two thousand years, in fact it is a tradition in the nation. Even the skill was not only taught, but also passed to the next generation by the previous generation to maintain the continuity.
The tool which were used to give and receive the tattoos back then were handmade, were made from boar’s teeth and turtle shell. These age-old techniques and tools used for this traditional practice are still in use, nothing has changed yet. And the process of giving or receiving traditional tattoos takes many weeks to complete. Generally, such Tattoo ceremonies are held on the occasion of the ascension of the younger chief to a leadership role in the society.
Once the tattoo procedure is completed in Samoa culture it is considered a dedication to the culture and a great endurance. The fact remains tattoos on body are extremely painful and the procedure had a great risk of infection, on top of it if someone is not able to endure the pain of getting a tattoo was defamed.
→ Tattoo in Ancient Greece & Rome
From the 5th century BCE in Greece it is evident that Tattoos during this era in Greece and Rome were done mainly on the outcasts of society, such as criminals, prisoners of war, and slaves.
It can be explained with an example from Ancient Greeks, when Athenians tattooed owls onto the Samians after defeating them. Also, there are evidence from Ancient Rome that soldiers and arms manufacturers had tattoos, back then. The practice continued till 9th century.
Evolution of Tattoo from Ancient to Date
Tattoos were not socially acceptable until the mid-20th century. Until mid-20th century tattoos were basically reserved for a small population, especially for those who were in the entertainment industry. There were myriads of popular styles throughout the 20th century, which evolved and then changed. Tattoos were mainly famous in western culture.
Here is a decade wise explanation of how tattoos evolved during these years.
→ Tattoos in the 1910s
At the advent of the 20th century, the majority of circus performers and sailors used to have tattoos. Back then Tattoos were used to either tell their personal story or their profession. Like, sailor mostly used to have anchor tattoos.
It was a custom within the sailing community, whenever a young sailor will join he would be tattooed as a mark of a mark of belonging. That was a sort of an initiation ceremony, to welcome a new joiner on the board.
And the tradition continued to grow with more practical purposes from identification purposes to define the length of their journey. Like a sailor would get a turtle tattoo which simple meant that the sailor had crossed the equator and journeyed for 5,000 miles.
→ Tattoos in the 1920s
In 1920s, cosmetic tattoos were a craze among women. Women would get popular styled tattoo on their faces, most commonly used makeup tattoos were eyebrows and lip liner.
Traditionally designed tattoos were still considered outcasts and hence were less common in the society. Even the make-up tattoos were so socially unacceptable, due to which most women would keep their cosmetic tattoo a secret.
→ Tattoos in the 1930s
In 1930s, everybody was told to memorize their personal social security numbers in order to do so many got themselves tattooed with their social security number onto their body, so that they would always have access to it.
However, still tattoos were not accepted in the society. In fact, in 1930s a new theory prevailed across the society, which said tattoos repressed sexual desires. Moreover, ‘Albert Parry’ in his book clearly mentioned that the whole process of getting a tattoo is essentially sexual.
→ Tattoos in the 1940s
In 1940s, the iconic ‘Sailor Jerry’ style of tattoo, came into fashion which were created by Norman Keith Collins. He simply added color to tattoos by creating his own pigments, and added them to his tattoo designs. The classic design of this decade featured bold motifs and plenty of beautiful colors.
Basically, tattoos in the 40s were mostly revolving around nautical or military motifs. Also, due to WW2 an increase in patriotic tattoos was witnessed. During that period there was an increase in women getting tattoos.
Because of all this the acceptance for tattoos raised to an extent. People started to get decorative tattoos on their bodies and were a little genial towards them.
→ Tattoos in the 1950s
Tattoos in the 1950s, became a symbol of masculinity. Especially bad boys started to have tattoos as it was becoming a trend among them. Still people in the society stigmatized having tattoos. People having tattoos were still considered criminals in this period.
→ Tattoos in the 1960s
In 1960s, it was said that tattoos causes hepatitis and hence Tattoo parlors in New York were blamed for the same throughout this period. There is no evident whether the news was correct or not but it highly negatively impacted the art and the industry itself.
However, celebrities started to get themselves tattooed in this period one is very famous musician of all tiles Janis Joplin.
Designs like skull and crossbones became famous in this period that too among the community of passionate bikers.
→ Tattoos in the 1970s
In 1970s, tattoos started to pick-up and were popular. Society was also becoming normal towards tattoos by now, this was the time when even regular people started to get them on their bodies. But that was the time when peace messages or peace symbols were common in the period.
Also, more detailed and intricate designs were gaining popularity in 70s, like full sleeve tattoos and bodysuits began to emerge.
→ Tattoos in the 1980s
Tattoos in 1980s were getting bigger, bolder, and brighter like: Bold black outlines, colorful motif designs, Celtic knots, and rose were in trend back then. The ‘rock and roll’ music scene also impacted the flourishing tattoo industry largely.
Many people would get inked after being inspired by their favorite rock star’s tattoos. By the 80s, society was finally ready to socially accept tattoos. That was the time when it was not condemned and even ‘regular’ people started to get inked.
→ Tattoo in the 1990s
90s, was the time of change in the society, may be because century was about to end. By this time celebrities started to get themselves inked and played an imperative role by large, to take the trend to the next level. And the best and the most iconic example of the 90s was Pamela Anderson’s who got barbed-wire on her armband. In addition, other designs which gained popularity during this period includes: tribal designs, Chinese letters, or tattoo of the sun.
→ Tattoos in the 2000s
New century, hence there were certain major changes which society witnessed, no idea whether it was because we stepped into the 21st century or we were little comfortable with the changes society was witnessing. Whatever the reason may be, during this period the craze for lower back tattoos gained popularity. “Tramp stamp” was one of the most favorite places for women to get tattoos, in that period. And the designs which were common during that period were of Butterfly and Yin-Yang symbols.
Singer Rihanna also got tattooed during the period. Undoubtedly, celebrities actually played an important role to steer tattoo trends.
→ Tattoos in the 2010s
In 2010s, trend changed to a newer level, this period has witnessed an exponential growth in tattoo designs and also in the placement of tattoos. People started to get themselves tattooed with small designs in unusual places, like nape, fingers, or behind the ears were gaining popularity. Creativity started to embark in the tattoo industry during this period.
Still we can see many beautiful designs coming in, and more and more people are getting tattoos on their body. Just to flaunt the part of their body, to show a PIZZAZZ!!
Tools Used for Creating Tattoos in Ancient Times
Earlier, tattoo tools were very different from the ones which are used today. Back then tattoo tools were made up a variety of different materials.
You won’t believe that the tools which were used in Polynesia required two people to make a tattoo. And these tools were simply consist of a chisel and a hammer. To create a tattoo, the tattoo artist would make a series of little cuts in the skin and then after that the ink was hammered directly into the skin on the cuts. And the method was commonly known as ‘Stick and Poke’.
Similar techniques are used in tribal communities to get their bodies inked. Also, it is said that the ancient Egyptian tattoo needles were made from bronze. Needles back then came in different sizes, just to create both intricate and basic designs.
Tattoo ink was homemade, which were likely to be made from ash or soot, later mixed with oil or breast milk. However, Samoan tattoo ink is traditionally made from the candlenut which is smoldered on a hot fire. Finally, soot will be collected from the burning nut and then will be mixed with sugar and water.
Today we have tattoo guns to do the needful. Basically was introduced in the year 1891 by Samuel O’Reilly. He was a New York Tattoo artist. His tattoo machine’s design was based on Thomas Edison’s invention the electric pen, an engraving machine while Samuel O’Reilly added needles and an ink reservoir to it.
O’Reilly later patented the electric tattoo machine. We can say that this machine was also one of the causes for the increased popularity of tattoos.
Back then inks used in the guns were created by using mineral or geological sources. Black ink was made using iron oxide or carbon, and the red ink was made with cinnabar. Likewise, different shades of red, orange, and yellow were made using different cadmium compounds.
But today, we can see the major shift because of the advancements in the technology, now inks are formed using mineral-based pigments. These inks do contain a variety of fillers, preservatives and binding agents. Also, organic pigments are more in use today.
To pan out…….
Tattoos in some cultures were their inherent part, whereas, western countries took time to accept this beautiful body art. Basically the wonder happened only in the last fifty years. Only then tattoos became popular and mainstream.
Tattoos from ancient times to date has evolved to a great extent and yet so much to be witnessed in the coming years. The history of this art has always been great and fascinating.
Let’s see what’s new will be there in the Tattoo Industry…
Till then keep tattooing.. ☺ ☺