Whether you love them or hate them, tattoos have always been an interesting aspect of our society and past societies. The earliest tattoos found were on Otzi the Iceman whose body was discovered in the Alps in 1991. While Otzi died around 3300 B.C, different forms of tattooing and skin pigmentation are believed to date back much farther.
What makes tattooing such an interesting practice is its scope as well as its longevity. There are mummies from over 5,000 years ago that have tattoo-like skin pigmentation, and some form of tattooing existed in almost every ancient society. Tattoos were used for everything from protection from evil, distinguishing different classes of people, and even for medicinal purposes. Otzi the iceman had 57 tattoos and 80% of these tattoos were noted to be pressure points on the body. Manipulating these pressure ints is known to help those who suffer from painful rheumatism, an affliction Otzi actually suffered from. The Yupiget, an indigenous tribe native to the St. Lawernce tribe off the coast of Alaska, utilized tattoos in a different but equally interesting manner. Elderly women within the tribe who were particularly well respected and could tattoo were known as Skin Seamstresses. While that is an extremely cool name and sounds like it could be some wild Netflix mini-series, the name doesn’t even describe the incredible work these women could do. Within the Yupiget culture, it is believed that the human body contains more than just one soul and that these different souls would are stored in various joints, limbs, and parts of the body. Skin Seamstresses were tasked with the important job of carefully puncturing and tattooing the skin in different parts of the body in order to represent and respect the multiple souls within it.
However, somewhere between then and now tattoos began to gather a whole new meaning. in 390 AD, along with eh expansion of the Christian church, tattoos began to become frowned upon. While there is no way of knowing for sure why tattoos were labeled as ‘unchristian’ one explanation could be that tattooing was such an important part of religions that had very different values to those of the Christian church. Demonizing tattoos was another way for the church to separate itself and alienate these other cultures. However, tattoos in western cultures began to become extremely popular after the invention of the electric tattoo machine in 1936, which ushered in what would be known as the ‘Tattoo Renaissance’ in the late 1950s to the 70s.
In the late 50s, tattoos became more mainstream and began to change from something purely symbolic to an actual art form in the western world. However, the true tattoo takeover didn’t occur until the 1070s when tattoos became a symbol of the counterculture. tattoos were Avant grade, unexpected and permanent, unlike the summer of love, a tattoo was going to last. While a generation of angry parents became spiteful of the art form, their children grew to love it simply because their parents hated it.
Since the early 2000s tattoos have shifted quite significantly in the eyes of the public, and in the professional world. They are no longer simply seen as the marks of a rebellious teenager but rather the indication of a person with artistic vision. Tattoos have crossed the social boundary from low to high class and in a sense have put us more in touch with ourselves than ever before, as tattoos are still quite a ritualistic practice. Getting poked with a needle over and over again for hours on end is not an enjoyable experience, but it is in many ways cathartic because at the end of the pain you have a permanent piece of art on your body. Tattoos can be a silly cartoon from a show or a message from a loved one, either way, tattoos can keep us in touch with a part of ourselves and our lives that we never want to let go of, and that’s a very special thing.