The History of Tattoos

Tattooing has been practiced across the globe since at least Neolithic times, as evidenced by mummified preserved skin, ancient art, and the archaeological record.[1] The oldest discovery of tattooed human skin was found on the upper lip of a Chinchorro culture mummy from South America, dating to approximately 6000 BC.,[2] while the oldest direct evidence for tattooing in Europe is the body of Ötzi the Iceman, dating from the late 4th millennium BC. Other mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the 2nd millennium BC have been discovered, such as the Mummy of Amunet from ancient Egypt and the mummies from the Pazyryk culture of Russia.[3]

 

 

Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes were often heavily tattooed, according to surviving accounts. The Picts may have been tattooed (or scarified) with elaborate, war-inspired black or dark blue woad (or possibly copper for the blue tone) designs. Julius Caesar described these tattoos in Book V of his Gallic Wars (54 BC). Nevertheless, these may have been painted markings rather than tattoos.[4]

Various other cultures have had their own tattoo traditions, ranging from rubbing cuts and other wounds with ashes, to hand-pricking the skin to insert dyes.

Tarim Basin (West China, Xinjiang) revealed several tattooed mummies of a Western (Western Asian/European) physical type. Still relatively unknown (the only current publications in Western languages are those of J P. Mallory and V H. Mair, The Tarim Mummies, London, 2000), some of them could date from the end of the 2nd millennium BC.

Tattooed mummies dating to c. 500 BC were extracted from burial mounds on the Ukok plateau during the 1990s. Their tattooing involved animal designs carried out in a curvilinear style. The Man of Pazyryk, a Scythian chieftain, is tattooed with an extensive and detailed range of fish, monsters and a series of dots that lined up along the spinal column (lumbar region) and around the right ankle.

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