The word Tattoo comes from the word “ta-tau” which means “the result from tapping”. Tattoos and body piercings have been around for thousands of years in many different cultures. Tattooed mummies for Egypt, Peru, and the Philippines have been dated back as far as 2000 B.C. The reasons for tattoos back then are a lot different than tattoos today. In Egypt the mummies found with tattoos were female, this is said to be because they were of royal status and these markings would show the gods of what importance these women were. They were also said to protect prostitutes against sexually transmitted diseases.
The instruments used back then to do tattooing are best described as sharp pointed on the end of a wooden handle. These instruments can be dated back to 3000 B.C. There were small bronze instruments found also in Egypt. These instruments found are similar to the tools found later in the 19th century Egypt, looked to be several needles tied together. They would use wood or oil mixed with breast milk to create the ink for these tattoos.
Most of the tattoos found on the mummies were largely dotted patterns in lines. They looked to be cosmetic on female mummies found. They were of dark or black pigment, the bright colors were mostly found in other ancient cultures.
The most recent discovery of early tattoos happened in 1991 when an iceman was found along the borders of Italy and Australia, this icemans tattoo where carbon dated back 5200 years ago. These tattoos found on the iceman were described to be small dots across the lower spine and on his right knee and ankle. These are looked to be a marking of status.
In 1948 in Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain region a body was discovered that was 2,400 years old, he was the first mummy to be found with his tattoos covering most of his body and they were in the shapes of mythical animals. Then in 1993 a woman was found also with tattoos on her shoulders that were in the shape of mythical animals to. To the ancient Greek cultures tattoos were a mark of nobility, not to have them showed how low on the social status you were. If you look into cultures among the Native Americas you see the first facial tattooing. Some tattoos would cover their whole face to show what tribe they belonged to.
Polynesia and Japan were thought to be the ones to introduce what we know as modern tattoos to the Western Cultures. If you look into the more modern tattoo the reasoning for tattoos changed. For the Maori culture of New Zealand, their face was considered to be the most important part of the body. Everyone’s tattoo was unique and would convey that persons rank, status and ancestry. Women of this culture would get tattoos on their face near their lips and chins to prevent the skin from becoming wrinkled or old. It was to keep them looking young. This practice was continued up until the 1970s. When you look at today’s culture you see that its more of a fashion statement then a marking of importance. This has developed though out the generations.
When you look into the history of piercing you see a much different history than tattoos. It was found that the Romans warriors use to get nipple rings to hold their capes in place. This was a sign of loyalty to their Emperor. The Mayans were said to have their tongues pierced as a part of spiritual rituals. It’s also been rumored that Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert had his penis pierced, but reason for this is still unproven.
Nose rings are used today as fashionable pieces of body jewelry, but did you know that they were first recorded in the Middle East about 4,000 years ago when it is mentioned in the Bible about Abraham gave his servant a “gold earring”, and in Hebrew this translates to “ nose-ring”. Genesis 24:22
Nose piercing was brought to India in the 16th Century from the Middle East by the Moghul emperors. Getting the left side of your nose pierced was most common in India because that was the spot associated with female reproductive organs. This piercing was supposed to make childbirth easier and lesson period pain.
Ear lobe piercings was the first attempt at body piercing ever. This was because it was so easy to be pierced. A body was found with ear piercings that was dated back to 5,000 years old. The body’s ears were pierced and were enlarged to 7-11 mm in diameter. This today is known as “Stretching’ your ears. The original reason for piercing your ears was for magical purposes, it was believed that demons could enter though the ears, but they were repelled by metal so they would wear metal earrings to keep away bad demons.
The second most popular piercing from ears was the Septum piercing. Cultures would stick though pieces of bone, feather, even wood. It was most common among warriors because it would give the face a ruff and tough appearance.
Both tattoos and piercings can be dated back a long time ago to cultures that used them as a religious or a way to show their status in society. Today we look at them as a fashion statement. Although times have change and their meaning as well, it’s clear to see that no matter what the meaning, people will always get tattoos and piercings because to them it means something.
By: Laura Herby and Megan Scott