The Origin of Tattooing



Summary: Tattooing is a form of art originating from Neolithic times and it has been considered as a Eurasian practice ever since. Evidence of this art form can be seen in the discoveries of Mummies from the Alps, Egypt and from the Ukok Plateau. The spread of the concept of tattoos was later on popularized by sailors who traveled and met the Polynesian and Amerindian tribes.


Tattoo comes from the Tahitian word “tatau”; it originally dates back to the 18th century and was later changed to “tattoo” to conform to the English phonology. The word was spread by sailors who traveled the world particularly in Europe, reintroducing the concept of tattooing again.


History of Tattoos

It is said reintroducing because the art of tattooing has its origin since Neolithic times, it has been a practice in the Eurasian region ever since. The discovery of Mummies, dating from 5th to 4th millennium BC, Otzi the Iceman from Otz Valley located in the Alps was found with a total of 57 tattoos with the design of simple carbon dots and lines located on his lower spine and behind his left knee and also on his right ankle. The tattoos are said to be a form of healing for they resemble the art of acupuncture. Another discovery was that of the Mummy of Amunet from the ancient Egypt and of the Mummies of Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau which dates back to the end of the 2nd millennium.


Julius Caesar has an account of tattooing on his Book V of his Gallic Wars which dates back to 54 BC. He describes the designs of the tattoos from the Pre-Christian Germanic and Celtic and also of those in other central and Northern European tribes to be famously tattooed or in other words “scarified” with war-inspired word designs which are darkened and has the colors of dark blue possibly copper and black.


Other cultures that feature the concept of tattooing have their own traditions. They range from rubbing cuts, and other wounds with ashes, to a more painful practice such as hand-pricking the skin to insert different colored dyes.


The concept of modern tattooing in the Western world dates back to 16th to 18th century. The art of tattooing was spread due to the maritime expeditions during this time. The contact between the Western explorers and the Amerindian tribes and Polynesians brought about the promotion of tattoos. The most popularized practice that time was that of the Polynesians, who took the Samoan word tatau to describe the actual tattoo. The wide traveling of sailors who practiced the art of tattooing became a mainstream thing in Europe and eventually in North America. Tattooing became a great demand in port cities all over the world especially by the American and European sailors, the practice of the Polynesian and then later on Japanese tattooing became popular to amateur tattoo artists.