Bubble Language School

The History of Tattoo (tatau) by David J.

Tattooing has always been a tradition passed on since prehistoric times.  Initially, tattoos represented one’s roles, skills, and status in society and were for superstitious purposes; however, their meaning transformed to represent individual freedom and expression.  Additionally, the public views tattoos differently throughout history, cultures, and religions.  The tattooing process also advanced since its origins, allowing for more elaborate designs, coloration, and safety. 

Prehistoric and Ancient Times

The origins of tattooing are unclear, however, historians have proven that the practice originated long before the late Stone Age (4,000 B.C.). There was evidence of tattooing on clay figures found in Romania, dating back to nearly 5,000 B.C. According to the Smithsonian Museum, the oldest evidence of tattooing was Ötzi, a natural mummy with 61 tattoos across his body. The tattoos are on his left wrist, lower legs, lower back, and torso. His discovered body in the Ötztal Alps dates back to 3250 B.C., surpassing the age of the Chinchorro mummy.

From the findings, Ötzi’s tattoos are grouped on his back where he sustained joints and spinal degeneration; researchers believed that they were perceived to have therapeutic values. In contrast, the Chinchorro mummy has a mustache-like tattoo above his lip possibly for cultural and cosmetic purposes. 

The tattoo materials in prehistoric times were made of natural resources, such as charcoal, soot, or plants. People used primitive tools, such as sharpened bones and sticks, to puncture their skin and insert. As the wound heals, the material remains inside the scar, finalizing the tattoo. On the other hand, people in the ancient era insert pigments and inks into their wounds with the assistance of metallic needles and tools, allowing for more precision and styling. The tattooing process in the era was the same as in prehistoric times, but certain cultures have variations. Some civilizations raised the bearer’s scars to rub the tattooing material onto the desired spot.

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