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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
By 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
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
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:
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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