Tattoos have a rich and diverse history that spans thousands of years and various cultures. The earliest evidence of tattoo art can be found in clay figurines from Japan dating back to 5000 BCE, and the oldest known human to have tattoos preserved upon his mummified skin is a Bronze-Age man from around 3300 BCE. This individual, known as Otzi the Iceman, was found in a glacier in the Otztal Alps and had 57 tattoos, many of which were located on or near acupuncture points associated with the treatment of diseases such as arthritis. Some scientists believe that these tattoos may indicate an early form of acupuncture.
Tattoos have also been found on mummies from ancient Egypt dating back to the Middle Kingdom period (2160-1994 BCE). In early Greek and Roman times (eighth to sixth century BCE), tattooing was associated with barbarians and was used to mark slaves and criminals for identification if they tried to escape. The Greeks learned tattooing from the Persians and the Romans adopted the practice from the Greeks.
In more recent history, tattoos have been found on the elaborately-tattooed mummies in Pazyryk tombs (sixth to second century BCE). The Pazyryks were fierce horsemen and warriors who lived on the grass plains of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.
The origins of tattooing are not clear, but it is believed that the practice may have arisen in various locations through bloodletting practices, scarification rituals, medical treatment, or by chance. Charles Darwin wrote in his book ‘The Descent of Man’ (1871) that there was no country in the world that did not practice tattooing or some other form of permanent body decoration. The 19th-century German ethnologist and explorer Karl von den Steinen believed that tattooing in South America evolved from the custom of decorating the body with scars. Plant sap rubbed into wounds to prevent bleeding caused discoloration of the scar, which could be regarded as a tattoo.
Tattoos have had different meanings and forms in various cultures throughout history. In some cultures, tattoos have been used for spiritual or religious reasons, while in others they have been used as a form of self-expression or as a marker of social status. Tattooing may have dispersed from various places through migration and nomadic peoples. For example, the women of various gypsy tribes in India and the Middle East were specialized tattooists and provided tattoos for inhabitants and pilgrims in regions as distant as Eastern Europe.
In recent times, tattoos have gained more mainstream acceptance, but they still carry a certain level of stigma in some societies. The word ‘stigma’ comes from the Latin word that means a mark or puncture, especially one made by a pointed instrument. Despite this, tattoos continue to be popular as a form of self-expression and as a way to commemorate important events or people in one’s life.
Overall, tattoos have a rich and fascinating history that spans thousands of years and various cultures. From the earliest evidence of tattoo art in clay figurines to the elaborately tattooed mummies of the Pazyryks, tattoos have played an important role in human history and continue to be an important form of self-expression for many people today.