Tattoos: Art in Ink

The word "tattoo" comes from the Polynesian word "tatu" which means "to mark something" or the Tahitian word "tatau" which means the same thing. The first tattoos were probably made by mistake. For example, if a wound by some reason got accidentally smeared with ash, the coal pigment would stay under the skin leaving a scar as well as a mark.

The history of tattoos goes back as far as Ancient Egypt, and from there, the practice of tattooing spread all over the world. Scientists have found mummies dated from 4200 BC with tribal tattoos. However, the tradition of tattooing has probably an even older history, since ice age rock carvings from 15000 BC shows tattooed figures. The best preserved tattoo was achieved from the 'Ötzi the ice man', who was found 1991. The five thousand years old body had no less than 57 tattoos, including a cross on the inside of his knee. It is speculated that the tattoos may have been applied for treatment of different illnesses.

The traditional technique for tattooing is simple: Just cut the skin and apply ink in the wound and let it heal. This technique is still used in different cultures today. The first electric tattooing machine saw daylight in 1891, which made tattooing less painful and also cheaper. This actually led to that the rich upper class (who had been fond of tattoos) stopped getting tattoos, since everyone suddenly could afford it.

Tattoos have played an important traditional and ritual roll in different societies. It has been used as a symbol for criminals, as well as an almanac for sailors to show where they have traveled. A tattoo may be everything from a symbol indicating membership in a special group e.g. motorcycle gangs, to a symbol for higher status and skills for the women in Borneo . The tradition of tattooing disappeared from the Western countries some time after the 12th century, but were reintroduced 1691 to Europe by William Dampher who was a sailor and brought a heavily tattooed man from Polynesia with him, who were soon called the "Painted Prince".

Today tattooing is more popular than ever and all kinds of people get tattooed, from policemen to housewives. Since the tattooing techniques has evolved, as well as the quality of paint, tattoos are more colorful and beautiful than ever and it is even possible to get a tattoo that only shows in ultraviolet light.


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