Tattoos: Making a Permanent Mark on the World


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Tattoos: Making a Permanent Mark on the World

The modern word “tattoo” was derived from the Tahitian word “tatatau” or “tattau” meaning to hit or strike.

Tattoos in the Ancient World

● The Iceman from the Italian-Austrian border – earliest known example of tattoos

○ Discovered in 1991
○ Iceman is carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old
○ Iceman’s tattoos consist of dots and small crosses on his lower spine, right knee and ankle joints

■ These locations correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration
■ They may have been applied as therapy to alleviate joint pain

● Egyptian tattoos date back to 2000 B.C. – considered the oldest examples before the discovery of the Iceman

○ Evidence suggests that Egyptian tattooing was predominantly for females
○ These females were once thought to be royal concubines

■ One has been revealed as a high-priestess named Amunet

○ Some archaeologists believe the tattoos were meant to ward off sexually transmitted disease
○ Some believe the tattoos played a more therapeutic role

■ A permanent amulet for pregnancy and birth

○ The tattoos were usually distributed around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and breasts

■ Abdomen – Net-like dots were applied

● these would expand during pregnancy – amulet of safety

■ Thighs – Small figures of the household deity, Bes

● Bes was the protector of women in labor
● suggests a symbol of safeguarding during birth

■ These explain tattoos as a mainly female custom

● The Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountains – another ancient culture which used tattoos

○ 1948 – a 2,400 year old frozen body of a Scythian male was discovered in Siberia

■ His limbs and torso were covered in ornate tattoos of mythical animals

○ 1993 – a Scythian woman with tattooed mythical creatures on her shoulders, wrists and thumb, was found in a tomb in Altai
○ 450 B.C. – Greek writer, Herodotus, stated Scythian and Thracian tattoos were a mark of nobility

● Ancient Britons were also thought to use tattoos as a mark of high status

○ their tattoos were often of diverse shapes of beasts
○ Romans named one Briton tribe “Picti” – “the painted people”

● Greeks and Romans often used tattoos as a mark of “belonging”

■ Belonging to religious sects
■ Belonging to slave owners
■ A punitive measure to mark some as criminals

○ Roman soldiers also adopted the practice of tattoos
○ Tattoo fashion spread across the Roman Empire

■ With the emergence of Christianity, tattoos were looked on as disfigurement
■ Tattoos were banned by Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-373)

● Native Americans, such as the Cree, used extensive facial tattoos

○ Six mummified Inuit women from A.D. 1475 were discovered with facial tattoos

■ Examination revealed five of the women had been tattooed in a line

● Lines extended over the eyebrows, along the cheeks
● Some also had a series of lines on the chin

Tattooing Tools; Old and New

● Tools that are thought to have been used for ancient tattooing

○ 1450 B.C. – Small bronze instruments resembling wide, flattened needles
○ 3000 B.C. – a sharp point set in a wooden handle
(both above discovered by archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie)

● 19th century Egypt – they also used several flattened needles

○ According to English writer Wlliam Lane (1801-1876)
○ Tattooing was performed with several needles tied together. The ink was a mix of soot or oil and breast milk of a woman

● Today’s tattoo tool is an electronically powered machine resembling a dental drill. It injects ink into the skin.

● The machine moves a solid needle up and down to puncture the skin
between 50 – 3,000 punctures per minute.

● The needle penetrates the skin by about a millimeter deep and deposits a drop of ink into the skin with each puncture

● The tattoo machine has remained relatively unchanged since the 1800’s

○ invented by Samuel O’Reilly and based on the autographic printer

■ an engraving machine invented by Thomas Edison

● The ink is deposited into the second layer or skin; the dermis
● Non-sterile tattooing can lead to diseases such as Hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV and syphilis

Drawing Lines to the Modern World:

● Today, the country with the most tattoos is Brittain with an estimated 20 million designs

○ 2013: David Beckham unveiled his newest tattoo in China

■ The Chinese characters say, “Life and death are determined by fate, rank and riches decreed by Heaven.”
■ Beckham reportedly has a total of 15 tattoos

● Most tattooed man: Lucky Diamond Rich

○ Lucky holds the Guinness World Record for the most tattoos
○ He has spent over 1,000 hours being tattooed by more than 100 artists
○ Lucky has been 100% tattooed including his eyelids and between his toes

● One of the strangest modern tattoo is the eyeball tattoo

○ David Boltjes was the first to let his prison mate stab him in the eye with this unconventional, untested tattoo method
○ The tattoos change the color of the sclera (white part of the eye)

● Not just for skin: One of the newest tattoo methods is tooth tattoos

○ Dental technician/tattoo artist, Steve Heward founded Heward Dental Labs
○ He and his team of artists/technicians paint minute works of art onto dental crowns
○ The price is anywhere from $75 – $200 USD

Statistics about tattoos today

● Americans spend $1.65B on tattoos per year

● Percentage of US adults with at least one tattoo

○ ages 18-25: 36%
○ ages 26-40: 40%

● 45m Americans have at least one tattoo
● There are 21,000 tattoo parlors in the US
● Average cost of a tattoo is $45 (small) to $150/hour (large)
● 32% of Americans claim to be addicted to ink
● 11% have had a tattoo removed
● 43% consider personal meaning to be the most important factor
● 29% say their tattoos make them feel rebellious
● 31% say tattoos make them feel more sexy