Tattoos are permanent forms of body art which belong to a multitude of different cultures all over the world. Here, we take a closer look at the history of tattoos. We’ll focus on where they originated and how practices have evolved since then. We also look at how societal attitudes toward tattoos have changed. Tattoos date back many thousands of years. In fact, we have firm evidence that tattooing is an ancient art, after discoveries of tattoos on mummified skin were found. The oldest evidence of human tattoos is believed to be from between 3370 BC and 3100 BC. Otzi the Iceman was discovered in September 1991. His nickname comes from the location he was found in the Otzal Alps. His body has naturally mummified and preserved, making him Europe’s oldest human mummy.
Otzi’s body has a total of 61 tattoos in various different locations, with the majority of these ink inscriptions located on his legs. Close examination of the markings on the mummy indicate that soot or fireplace ash were used to create the tattoos. While Otzi may be evidence of the first tattoos known to mankind, other eras and ages throughout history reveal a long and rich history of tattooing. There is evidence of this from over 49 different location around the world, where tattooed mummies and remains have been discovered. Locations, where ancient tattoos have been recorded on human remains, include: Alaska, Mongolia, Greenland, Egypt, China, Sudan, Russia, and the Philippines. All of these discoveries link to different periods of time throughout ancient history. Some of these date back to 2100 BC.
As the first tattoos date back to ancient civilizations, the reasons behind the tattoos are fuelled by different theories. These theories reflect the location and the cultures of the civilizations themselves. Let’s take a closer look at some of these ancient civilizations and some theories about why they used to tattoo themselves. Some cemeteries across western China in the province of Xinjiang have revealed a number of tattooed mummies. Some mummies date as far back as 2100 BC, while others are considerably younger, dating to around 550 BC. Within ancient Chinese practices, tattooing was considered to be barbaric and was highly stigmatized.
Ancient Chinese literature refers to folk heroes and bandits as having tattoos. It is also thought to have been fairly common for convicted criminals to be branded with a tattoo on their face. This tattoo was used to warn other members of society that this person could not be trusted. There have been discoveries of tattooed mummies from ancient Egypt, which suggest that the practice here dates back to at least 2000 BC. Some theories indicate that the tattoos found on the mummies were for decorative purposes. Research by Daniel Fouquet suggests that, in ancient Egypt, tattoos may have even been performed as a medical treatment. His examination of the different scars found on the mummified body of the priestess, Hathor, suggests that the markings could have been a treatment for pelvic peritonitis. Another interesting discovery about tattooing from ancient Egypt is that it appears this practice was only carried out on women. This theory is supported by the fact that there is little to no evidence, either physical or artistic, that men received tattoos. This practice changed, however, during the Meroitic period, between 300 BC and 400 CE, when Nubian men received tattoos.