Style - Tattoos
By: - at May 26, 2013

The Evolution of Tattoos

For many centuries, tattooing has been used to preserve and represent a culture. Throughout history, they served many purposes - both social and personal. Whether permanent or temporary, this kind of body art has adorned the bodies of those occupying a specific social class or performing a certain duty in a tribal ceremony.

evolution of tattoos tattoo gun tattooing culture native people
By THOR via Wikimedia Commons

Tattoos can range from the simple dots or lines to intricate geometric designs to other variety of images that serve as identification or status symbol, protection from enemies, religious affiliation, declaration of love, or even sign of being an outcast. It has evolved through the years and has continued to fascinate people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

History of Tattooing
Believed to have started at about 3300 BC, this body art came back into the limelight upon the discovery of Otzi, the Iceman, in 1991. With carbon dating identifying him as 5300 years old, experts recognized tattoos of vertical and horizontal lines. Though there is no certainty as to the purpose of the marks, there is no doubt inking has been part of practice in many areas of the world. For many centuries, countries like India, China, Samoa, New Zealand, and some in the African continent have used it to signify affiliation in tribal communities. In some, it is used to identify a personís social rank that ranges from the royals to criminals and slaves.

Studies reveal that most tattoos play a role in a primeval personís life as it helps keep bad spirits away, or as markings that one has become an adult and now ready to become part of the mainstream society. In Egypt, for example, mummies were found to have been tattooed. This, however, is only true of men. Perceived to be generally a product of rituals, most Egyptian mummies have been inked with lines and dots at many parts of the body. In Japan, clay figures with the human shape found inside the ancient tombs are tattooed.

Mummified Hand with Visible Tattoos
Mummified Hand with Visible Tattoos

Mostly, these tattoos were painted on the faces of the figurines which might resemble a certain person occupying a certain rank. Excavated from tombs that were made around 3000 BC, they are most likely used for religious purposes. Tattoos have crept its way into modern society depicting different meanings and soliciting different opinions at any given period.

Tattooing in the Ancient Societies
The human skin has been a favorite canvass with pointed objects such as sticks serving as paintbrushes. Originally, in the absence of ink, scarring is the most popular type of tattooing. This is done by scrapping the skin and putting ashes or dirt in the scrapes to disfigure the dermis permanently. In some other tribes, tattooing is done by cutting the skin and putting in substances from charred sticks to serve as color for the marking.

Scarring Tattoo on Shoulder:
Scarring Tattoo on shoulder

Tattoos are an ordinary expression of personality, but tattooing played a significant role in ancient societies where it was considered a life-long mark every member of a tribe must have. With societies being closely-knitted, it expressed being a part of something. From a simple geometric mark on a specific part of the face to larger designs on the arms, it taught people the view of having to conform. As the only permanent identification for a person, tattooing has been used to identify members of a tribe. Consequently, it was used as an expression of religious and mystical beliefs.

 Nuba Woman:
Woman from Sudanese Nuba Tribe

In Africa, most ancient tattoos took the design of an animal, plant, or plain lines. Unbelievable as it may be in the present period, most members of the tribe would paint their faces to scare the enemy and outsiders. Other chiefs of villages would have their bodies designed with dots lined on the back and the ankle. Small geometric designs around the shoulder of a woman belonging to Nuba tribe symbolize beauty. Mostly, having tattoos is a painful process involving blood or fire by which ancient men believed to ward off evil spirits and make their sacred beliefs more powerful. A tattoo of an animal is believed to establish association with that beast and, thus, prevent being attacked.

In India, people used to be tattooed based on their caste system. Additionally, women are painted, temporarily, by her family and friends to celebrate her wedding day. These tattoos are believed to increase fertility and virility.

Tattooing in the Modern Societies
Society has been changing with fashion and the way of thinking towards tattoos. Gone are the days when getting inked is a taboo or getting colored designs on the skin would qualify one for a criminal or gang member. The cultural status of tattoos changed so much from being branded as anti-social to trendy. Sported by popular rock band members, professional athletes and models, tattooing has made itself a symbol of being someone in contemporary culture.

Modern TattooBy the 70s, the number of tattoo artists increased tremendously and societies started looking at it as a discipline of the fine arts. It started to create positive impressions on people as many young men and women opted to sport this body art. Different from that of the tribal communities, tattoos today are just considered as decorations or expression of oneís self. One contributing factor for this change of impression is the kind of subconscious advertisements public figures tend to exhibit.

Existing still, there are a great number of prisoners and gang members that make use of brandish tattoos. This is mainly with the purpose of displaying lawlessness or disobedience of the rules society abides with. For younger people, it can be more on organizational affiliations, distinguishing allies from rivals.

Bringing exquisite imagery and artistic skills, tattoo artists were able to give their artwork of colors and detail a new place in society. To keep up with the demands, innovations were embraced with the introduction of new equipment regulated by the government. Health regulations are passed to ensure the safety of the increasing tattoo clientele. For about three decades, tattooing business has been surging high, earning revenues from both outlaw culture in the suburbs and the high-end fashion crowd.

As celebrities are seen proudly standing with their inks, the majority is starting to believe that there is nothing wrong with having tattoos. Generally, men opt to get tattoos on the shoulder, back, arms or chest while women would go for smaller designs on their ankles, fingers or lower back. With the kind of popularity it enjoys today, there is no sign that this body art, originating from tribal societies, utilized for very different purposes, is slowing down anytime soon.

Celebrity Mike Tyson's Famous Tattoo:
Celebrity Mike Tyson's Famous Tattoo
By sxsw 2011 via Wikimedia Commons

Final Inking Thoughts
Modern tattooing practices and symbolism vary greatly from that of the primitive era. With its adorable designs and colors, it has penetrated the most influential sections of the international showbiz and fashion industry. High profile athletes and stars take pride in their ink, making it even more acceptable socially and culturally. Being one of the fastest growing and thriving industries in the United States, tattooing is considered more for its cosmetic values. For many, it is an expression of love for a specific person, religion or passion.

Kohrs Rotary Tattoo Machine Type 1978 K:
Kohrs Rotary Tattoo Machine Type 1978 K
By Manfred Kohrs via Wikimedia Commons

Body art is found in the history of humankind. It has served its purpose of providing protection, identification and classification of tribe members. Loved by men and women, tattoos of varying shapes, colors, pattern, and dimensions are here to stay, not depicting identical symbolism but equally considered essential. There are no restrictions on whatever figures can be draw on oneís skin, the only limit are the willingness and the imagination.





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