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Tattoo History

Essay by 24  •  July 31, 2010  •  2,078 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,232 Views

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This History of Tattoos

"Tattoo is a term applied to the practice of permanently marking the skin by injecting or puncturing the dermis and embedding an indelible pigment" (Campbell. N.P). Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These everlasting designs: sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, but always personal have served as status symbols, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment. "In 1991, the oldest recorded tattoos belong to Otzi the iceman, whose mummified remains discovered in the Otztal Alps between Italy and Austria." According to anthropologist, Nina Jablonski from Penn State, the iceman died around 3300 B.C. "The skin is of great interest because it bears several tattoos: a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines 15 centimeters long above the kidneys and numerous lines on the ankles"(Gilbert Pg. 11). Whether we look at tattoos with awe or disgust, admiration or disapproval, it is a simple fact that tattooing is practiced all over the world and has been for thousands of years; Tattoos are everywhere, every tattoo has a different meaning, some for religious beliefs, forms of punishment, signs of masculinity, even to fit into a certain society or just to be an outcast, but till this day everyone still gets tattooed.

In Egypt, earlier Egyptologists influenced by prevailing social attitudes toward the medium have virtually ignored written records, physical remains, and works of art relevant to Egyptian tattoo. "Today however, we know that there have been bodies recovered dating to as early as the six Dynasty, exhibiting the art form of tattoo. In 1891, archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of Amunet, a priestess of the goddess Hathor. Amunet's life dated back to 4160 BC" (Egyptian World N.P). This female mummy displayed several lines and dots tattooed about her body - grouping dots and or dashes aligned into abstract geometric patterns. "The implements used, clay and sharp bone needles to make tattoos" (Egyptian World N.P). This art form was restricted to women only, and usually these women were associated with ritualistic practice. Egyptian tattooing, sometimes related to the sensual, erotic, and emotional side of life, and these themes found in tattooing today. The Egyptians spread the practice of tattooing throughout the world. By 2,000 BC, the art of tattooing had stretched out all the way to Southeast Asia. The Ainu (western Asian nomads) then brought it with them as they moved to Japan.

In Japan, the earliest evidence of tattooing is found in the form of figurines made of clay that have faces painted or engraved to represent tattoo marks. "The oldest figurines of this kind of been recovered from tombs dated 5,000BC or older, and many other figurines have been found in tombs dating from the second and third millennia BC" (Gilbert Pg. 77). The tools used in Japanese tattooing consisted of bamboo and metal. The Bamboo is crafted for the wooded handle of the tool and steel or other metal creates a tight bundle of needles that are fixed at one end of the tool. The first record of Japanese tattooing found in a Chinese dynastic history compiled in 297 AD. By the early seventeenth century, the rulers of Japan adopted plenty of the cultures of the Chinese, resulting in the disliking of the decorative tattooing identified. The first documented tattooing as a form of punishment in Japan was in 720 AD. By the late seventeenth century, a general code to recognize criminals and outcast was widely used. "Outcasts were tattooed on the arms, and the criminals were marked with a variety of symbols that designated the place where the crimes were committed" (Krcmarik N.P). By the end of the seventeenth century, other forms of punishment replaced penal tattooing. The reason was that decorative tattooing became popular, and criminals covered their punishment tattoos with larger decorative patterns. In the eighteenth century, pictorial tattooing blossomed in connection with the popular culture of Edo, now called Tokyo. Publishers needed samples for their novels and theatres needed advertisements for their plays. The Japanese developed wood blocks to meet their needs. The wood block prints, had great influence on the development of the art of tattooing. Traditional Japanese tattoo differs from Western tattoos in that is consists of a single major design that covers the back and extends onto the arms, legs and chest. The design requires a major commitment of time, money, and emotional energy. Each design is associated with a characteristic such as loyalty, devotion, courage, or obligation and by being tattooed the individual symbolically makes these virtues part of himself. Tattoos were gaining popularity in England among the wealthy in the same period.

"In 1691, English explorer William Dampier brought a tattooed man from the South Pacific back with him to England. Prince Giolo also known as Painted Prince, he was brought to London to be exhibited as a curiosity" (Reybold Pg. 15). "He was painted all down the Breast, between his Shoulders behind; on his Thighs (mostly) before; and in the form of several broad Rings, or Bracelets around his Arms and Legs. I cannot liken the drawings to any figure of animals, or the like; but they were very curious, full of great variety of Lines, Flourishes, Checkered Work & keeping a very graceful Proportion and appearing very Artificial, even to wonder, especially that upon and between his shoulders-blades." (DeMello pg. 29). The journey to London was exhausting, arriving in poor health; he then soon died from smallpox leaving no chance for the English owners to profit from his tattoos.

"In 1774, another explorer, Captain James Cook returned to London with Omai, a Polynesian man covered with tattoos" (Krcmarik N.P.). Tattooing was particularly common in cultures around Polynesia and the pacific area, and the word used in the English language today stems from this area. "Before the arrival of Europeans in the South Pacific, Polynesian tattooing was the most complex and skillful tattooing in the ancient world" (Gilbert Pg. 21). As Polynesians made their way across the pacific, they left a record of their expeditions in the form of pottery and other artifacts dating back to 1500 B.C. "Lapita pottery is of special interest for the history of tattooing because it provides us with the oldest evidence as to the nature of the ancient Polynesian tattoo designs" (Gilbert Pg. 22). Much of the designs consisted of V-Shaped elements, interlocking geometrical patterns and stylized motifs resembling masks and sea creatures. The instruments used by the Polynesian consist of flat, chisel-shaped pieces of bone measuring two or four centimeters in length and filed sharp

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