A Brief History of Tattoos

                     Tattooing has been a part of human society for thousands of years and can be found among ancient and native cultures throughout the world. The earliest tattoo to date was found on the famous "Iceman" mummy. Estimated to have lived around 3300 BC and discovered in 1991 in the northern Italian Alps, the mummy revealed approximately 57 tattoos on its ankles, back of the knees and lower back. It is believed that these tattoos were for medicinal purposes, possibly a form of ancient acupuncture. Tattoos have also been found on Egyptian mummies (though only female) and are evidenced in many cultures worldwide, including Greek, Ainu, Mayan, Aztec, Norse and Saxon. Tattooing in Asia is thousands of years old. Polynesians have one of the richest tattooing cultures in the world. The word tattoo comes from Tahitian word "tatu" which means "to mark something." The history of the tattoo in the Polynesian culture reaches back over two thousand years, and Polynesian tattoos are considered among the most detailed and complex. For Polynesians, tattooing is considered spiritual and sometimes can cover the entire body. Even today, the tradition of tattooing by hand is considered almost sacred by Polynesians, and the craft is passed from father to son, much like serving an apprenticeship. The Hawaiian culture is renowned for its tattoos. In the Hawaiian society, traditional tattoo art, known as kakau, is performed not only for the purposes of individualism and ornamentation but also to guard one's spirit, health and well-being. Hawaiian tattoos are typically intricate, mimicking elements of nature such as leaves, reeds, plants, and certain creatures of nature such as lizards, tortoises, butterflies or fish. Around 1000 AD, Polynesian settlers found their way to New Zealand and became known as the Maori. By the 18th and 19th centuries, the Maori had developed their culture significantly. One notable aspect of their culture was the development and use of the tattoo, which was called the moko. In this culture, the tattoo or moko, was used to depict societal status, tribal affiliation and ancestry. Known for the full face tattoo, the Maori tattooing was actually performed by carving and chiseling the skin. Being master carvers of wood, the Maori used their skill to create intricate designs in their skin too. The tradition of tattooing or carving also expanded to the lower torso, extending from the waist to the knees. All Polynesian peoples have a common thread when it comes to tattoos. They believe that a person's spirit or life force can be represented in their tattoo and thus it has a tremendous significance among their society. Regardless of purpose, tattoos have played an important role in ritual and tradition. As described above, the motivation for having a tattoo can stem from a variety of reasons. Over time, society's elite such as royalty and czars have had tattoos to distinguish themselves from the rest of their social order. In a negative sense, some cultures have used tattoos for just the opposite purpose -to distinguish an element of their society for the purpose of discrimination or segregation. Regardless of the reason or the society, there can be no dispute that the tattoo has a place in history. This is also true in American society, where the tattoo has evolved tremendously. It was in the United States that the first electric tattoo gun was developed, based upon the technology and principles of Thomas Edison. It was this tattoo gun that revolutionized the art of tattooing by making the process simpler for artists and also for those getting tattoos. Prior to the seventies, the tattoo was considered the mark of bikers, sailors, freaks, and carnival ride operators and was held in disdain by most of American society (except for Hawaiians). While in the 1940's during World War II many in the service got a tattoo, the process of getting a tattoo was considered an "underground" activity subject to health concerns, and considered dangerous by many. However, in the seventies, tattooing started to take on a new significance during a time when the American society was undergoing many cultural changes. These cultural changes, included the development and increased popularity of civil rights, as well as gay and lesbian, peace advocate and women's lib groups. The peace sign and the marijuana leaf became very popular in the late sixties and seventies as a sign of counter-culture beliefs as tattooing started to creep into the middle class of American society. Today, tattooing is more popular than ever with some claiming that as many as a third of Americans under the age of forty have a tattoo. With this popularity, the tattoo parlor has largely evolved to become a safer, more acceptable place in society and even tattooists are now being considered among the ranks of American artists, more and more having an education in art and/or health.