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Here's a little history of ancient practices to modern day tattooing

Some history behind tattooing

Tattooing has been practiced across the globe since at least Neolithic times, as evidenced by mummified preserved skin, ancient art and the archaeological record. Both ancient art and archaeological finds of possible tattoo tools suggest tattooing was practiced by the Upper Palaeolithic period in Europe. However, direct evidence for tattooing on mummified human skin extends only to the 4th millennium BC.


The oldest discovery of tattooed human skin to date is found on the body of Ötzi the Iceman, dating to between 3370 and 3100 BC. Other tattooed mummies have been recovered from at least 49 archaeological sites, including locations in Greenland, Alaska, Siberia, Mongolia, western China, Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines and the Andes. These include Amunet, Priestess of the Goddess Hathor from ancient Egypt (c. 2134–1991 BC), multiple mummies from Siberia including the Pazyryk culture of Russia and from several cultures throughout Pre-Columbian South America.

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the painted ones of the Philippines in the Boxer Codex
Spanish depiction of the tattoos (patik) of the Visayan Pintados ("the painted ones") of the Philippines in the Boxer Codex (c.1590), one of the earliest depictions of native Austronesian tattoos by European explorers
Hawaiian hafted tattoo instrument, mallet, and ink bowl, which are the characteristic instruments of traditional Austronesian tattooing culture
A page from Thomas Harriot's book A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia showing a painting by John White. Markings on the skin represent tattoos that were observed.

Preserved tattoos on ancient mummified human remains reveal that tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for millennia.[3] In 2015, scientific re-assessment of the age of the two oldest known tattooed mummies identified Ötzi as the oldest example then known. This body, with 61 tattoos, was found embedded in glacial ice in the Alps, and was dated to 3250 BCE. In 2018, the oldest figurative tattoos in the world were discovered on two mummies from Egypt which are dated between 3351 and 3017 BCE.

Ancient tattooing was most widely practiced among the Austronesian people. It was one of the early technologies developed by the Pre-Austronesians in Taiwan and coastal South China prior to at least 1500 BCE, before the Austronesian expansion into the islands of the Indo-Pacific. It may have originally been associated with headhunting. Tattooing traditions, including facial tattooing, can be found among all Austronesian subgroups, including Taiwanese Aborigines, Islander Southeast Asians, Micronesians, Polynesians, and the Malagasy people.

For the most part Austronesians used characteristic perpendicularly hafted tattooing points that were tapped on the handle with a length of wood (called the "mallet") to drive the tattooing points into the skin. The handle and mallet were generally made of wood while the points, either single, grouped or arranged to form a comb were made of Citrus thorns, fish bone, bone, teeth and turtle and oyster shells. Ancient tattooing traditions have also been documented among Papuans and Melanesians, with their use of distinctive obsidian skin piercers. Some archaeological sites with these implements are associated with the Austronesian migration into Papua New Guinea and Melanesia. But other sites are older than the Austronesian expansion, being dated to around 1650 to 2000 BCE, suggesting that there was a pre-existing tattooing tradition in the region.

Starting in the early 2000s, tattoos and the military began to reconnect, as tattoos became a symbolic and popular way to show social and political views Tattoos were being used by soldiers to show belonging, affiliation, and to mark down their war experiences. Rites of passage in the military were marked with tattoos, like when one completes basic training or returns home from service. Modern military tattoos in the United States became less about valor and honor, but about recognizing the experiences, losses, and struggles of servicemen.

Tattoos can now be seen and perceived as ways to convey loss and grief, guilt and anger, as ways to highlight the transformational nature of war on individuals, and even convey a hope for a better nation and self. The history of tattooing in the U.S. can be seen to have been influenced and affected by war and the military. Though its expression and reception by the public are constantly in flux, both practices are deeply connected and still effect one another today. Dyvik writes in her article, War Ink: Sense Making and Curating War Through Military Tattoos, that "war lingers in and on the bodies and lifeworlds of those who have practiced it.

By artist Tony Gartland
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By artist Gabi