The History Of Tattoos

By Adrianna Pineda

What Are Some Of The Earliest Known Cases Of People Having Tattoos?

Tattoos came from a rich cultural history dating back 5,000 years. But the earliest known record of tattoos was found in 1991 on the frozen remains of the Copper Age "Iceman" (named Otzi).

How Were They Created?

Otzi's lower back, ankles, knees, and a foot were some how marked with a series of small lines. This was possible by rubbing powdered charcoal into vertical cuts. X-rays revealed bone degeneration at the site of each tattoo. Making researches believe that his people may have used tattoos as medical treatment to reduce pain.

How Did Some Cultures Use Tattoos?

As we began to grow tattoos took on other meaning.


  1. Ancient Romans found no reason to have tattoos unless you were a criminal. But over time the Roman attitudes toward tattoos changed. While fighting an army of Britons who wore their tattoos as badges of honor, some Romans came to admire their enemies' tattoos and what they symbol. Soon the Roman soldiers were wearing their own marks.
  2. In Tahitian when a girl reached the age of maturity, her buttocks were tattooed black. A tradition that continues among some today.
  3. When in mourning, Hawaiians tattooed their tongues with three dots and in Borneo they would tattooed an eye on their palms. It was a spiritual guide that would lead them to the next life.

Anthropologist

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My Culture Japan

Tattooing has been practiced in Japan—for beautification, magic, and to mark criminals—since around the 5th century B.C. Repressive laws gave rise to the exquisite Japanese designs known today. Restricted from wearing the ornate kimonos that adorned royalty and the elite, outraged merchants and the lower classes rebelled by wearing tattooed body suits. Covering their torsos with illustrations that began at the neck and extended to the elbow and above the knee, wearers hid the intricate designs beneath their clothing. Viewing the practice as subversive, the government outlawed tattoos in 1870 as it entered a new era of international relationships. As a result, tattooists went underground, where the art flourished as an expression of the wearer's inner longings and impulses. The yakuza, the Japanese gangster class, embraced the body suits—even more so because they were illegal. Their elaborate designs usually represented an unresolved conflict and also included symbols of character traits the wearer wanted to emulate. A carp represented strength and perseverance. A lion stood for courage. Such tattoos required long periods of pain from the artist's bundles of needles, endured by wearers as a show of allegiance to their beliefs. Today, Japanese tattoo wearers are devoted to the most colorful, complete, and exotic expression of the art.