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  • Writer's pictureRomain Berg

A Brief History of Tattoos


South American tribes people with many tattoos on their bodies from the South American jungle.

Tattoos have existed for as long as we can remember, with many people choosing to ink themselves permanently for several reasons. And over the years, tattoos have evolved from basic designs to more sophisticated ones.


Since this form of art is almost as old as time, the professional tattoo artists at Wingnut Tattoo and Piercing believe it’s fair to take you down memory lane to where it all began. With over 20 years of tattooing experience, we’re armed with enough information about the history of tattoos.


Read on to find out more about this body art. You just might end up falling in love with tattoos after reading this piece!


The Origin of Tattoos

Over the years, different scientists and researchers have had a thing or two to say about tattooing. For instance, Charles Darwin wrote in one of his books that every country in the world practiced tattooing or any other kind of permanent body decoration.


David Livingstone, a Scottish physician, also stated that Africans inked themselves using a black material under the skin to create a raised scar.


Furthermore, Karl von den Steinen propounded the theory that the origin of tattoos in South America could be traced back to an old custom of decorating the body with scars. These people would rub plant saps into these wounds to stop bleeding, and the ensuing discolorations were called tattoos.


Each of these theories and other unmentioned ones points to the fact that tattooing is an art that came to be through scarification processes, bloodletting practices, medical treatments, etc.


The Meaning of Tattoos

Group portrait of indigenous people from the Amazon with ritual paintings on their face and headdresses looking at the camera.

While there’s no information about the original meanings of tattoos, these markings, including piercings and scarification, are usually used to distinguish individuals and groups in a society. Tattoos are also part of someone’s identity.


Tattoos can mean anything. In some cultures, it’s a mark of distinction, given as an award for a particular feat or achievement. In other cultures, it’s a source of shame.


Some societies use these markings to indicate power, class, marital status, and age. And in some tribes, tattoos can be used to differentiate friend from foe or safeguard oneself from evil. Other tribes and cultures regard tattoos on women as a symbol of beauty.


Overall, pain is an integral part of tattooing, which is why some people use it as a form of initiation into a group or cult.


History of Tattoos: The Oldest Tattoos Recorded

The oldest tattoos in the world were found on the mummified skin of Otzi the Iceman. His remains were found in 1991 in the glacier of the Otztal Alps, between modern-day Austria and Italy. Scientists deduce that he was a Bronze-Age man who lived around 3300 BCE.


Otzi had about 60 tattoos on his body, and many were located on or near acupuncture points. This made experts conclude that these marks were products of specific medical treatments. These marks look like they were made from powdered charcoal, although no one knows how these tattoos were created.


Besides Otzi the Iceman, other examples of old tattoos can be traced back to ancient Egypt. Several tattooed mummies who lived around 2160-1994 BCE have also been discovered.


Meanwhile, the Greeks and Romans of the 8th to 6th century BCE believed tattooing was meant for Barbarians. After learning tattooing from the Persians, the Greeks used it to mark criminals and slaves for easy identification. The Romans also imbibed this culture.


Tattoos in Modern Society

For a while, tattoos lost their popularity, although it was still practiced in some areas like Japan and China. It even took a while for the Western world to accept tattoos in their society.


According to reports, sailors were the first to embrace tattoos in the West, with Captain James Cook and his crew leading the charge. These people started getting tattoos as souvenirs from their trips to China, Japan, and the Pacific Islands.


After World War II, tattoos in America were mainly seen on juvenile delinquents, bikers, and other criminal groups. Civilized society had little respect for ink markings. Plus, due to low hygiene standards and poor sterilization of tattooing equipment, there were outbreaks of blood poisoning and diseases like hepatitis. As a result, tattoos were rendered illegal in some parts of the United States.


This body art was revived in the 1970s and became an essential ingredient of mainstream Western fashion. This time, it became open to people of all economic classes and genders, although they were more popular among the youth.

cropped view of dreamy tattooed girl lying on bed

Now, tattoos are everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to see tattooed models used for different fashion campaigns worldwide. There’s no social distinction—tattoos now cut across all social boundaries.


There’s also an increase in tastes and tattoo styles, which is an upgrade of the tribal markings that once existed. Now, more abstract designs are available, and you can even request customized designs if you wish.


Get Your Tattoo at Wingnut

With the newfound popularity of tattoos in the present world, it’s not strange to see even celebrities and world-class individuals sporting an inscription on their bodies. And with the increase in demand for piercings, several tattoo artists have the license to pierce your skin.


If you’d like to have a tattoo, contact us or reach out to us via our website. You’re one appointment away from getting the tattoo of your dreams!




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