Arguably, tattoos date back to about 3000 B.C. Marks found on a mummified human body dating that old, have tattoos. Tattoos have also been found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies that date back to about 2000 B.C. Many references can also be found in books from classical authors referring to the Greeks, Germans and Gauls.
Europeans rediscovered tattooing when they encountered Polynesians and American Indians during some exploration. The word tattoo comes from the Tahitian word "tattau" which means "to mark". European and U.S. societies considered tattoos very exotic so many tattooed Indians and Polynesians drew a crowd at the circus and fairs during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The reason for tattooing has changed over the years and across various cultures. In the early practice of tattooing, it was primarily for decoration. This ancient practice still holds true today for most people. Early Romans used tattoos for identification. They would tattoo slaves and criminals so that everyone would know their status. Tahitian tattoos were rites of passage and told to story and history of the person's life. In the early days of the U.S. when sailors would travel to foreign lands, they would collect tattoos as souvenirs of their travels and experiences.
Methods of tattooing varied across cultures and time as well. Many Indians in North and South America created tattoos simply by pricking. Some tribes in California then began to introduce scratches when introducing color. In Polynesia, pigment was pricked into the skin by using a small tool that resembled a rake. In New Zealand, the Maori people used wood carving techniques using a bone-cutting tool to make shallow, colored grooves in the skin. When the Europeans arrived, they began to use metal, taking a small step toward the puncture style of tattooing we see today.
Was this article helpful?