It is unknown exactly how old the practice of tattooing actually is, however its origins can be traced back to ancient civilizations in prehistoric times and many of today’s cultural tattoos still reflect this. Modern day aborigines sport tattoo designs that are very similar to the artwork used in Neolithic man across Europe and incredibly, some of these designs are thought to be hundreds if not thousands of years old. While the first records of this ancient art form originate from the new Stone Age, it is widely believed the process we now refer to as tattooing, goes back even further than that. A mummified man found in Central Europe Was believed to have been preserved in ice for over five thousand years, and a tattoo on this frozen corpse was discovered completely intact.
Ancient Egyptian mummies were also found to have tattoo markings on them, particularly female ones which added to the theory that these were courtesans and tattooing was used in this civilizations to identify one’s social status or standing. The Greeks and Romans used tattoos to label their slaves however they deemed it to barbaric for any other purpose among those higher up the scale in society. Perhaps this opinion was enhanced by the Celts and Germanic tribes they come across in other parts of Europe who used cultural tattoos extensively for symbolic and ritual purposes. The Scottish tribe known as the Picts took this a step further and painted their entire bodies blue however this was entirely unique to that specific area and is unrecorded anywhere else in history.
There was a stagnant period for tattooing during the middle ages, perhaps due to the increased fervor for religions like Catholicism and Christianity whose beliefs prohibited body art adornment of any kind. This was due to the close association of tattooing and paganism which was considered a primitive ritual to the organized religions that followed. In other parts of the world, tattooing was widely celebrated as Asian, Polynesian and African cultures developed intricate designs for the face and body that were a huge part of their cultural beliefs and customs. For the New Zealand Maori tribe’s people, these facial adornments were specially designed to fit the shape of the individual’s face and these intricate spiral patterns are still hugely popular today.
Tahitian word to mark is tatu, which this is where the modern word tattoo originates from; however it was sailors returning from the South Seas adorned with this Polynesian artwork that reintroduced to this ancient art form to Europe once again. As a result British and American craftsmen adapted these primitive designs by merging them with other fine art images which was to change the face of this art form forever. The process itself was altered completely in the late 19th Century with the invention of an automated machine which formed the basis of the tattoo gun used for in modern tattooing. However while the procedure and styles have changed considerably over the centuries, the artwork used in cultural tattoos today has survived throughout and is still in great demand with tattoo enthusiasts the world over.