(Info taken from "Tattoo Sourcebook" by the editors at Tattoofinder.com)
Evidence has been found that suggests tattooing has been a part of almost every culture dating back to the Bronze Age, circa 3000 BC. A tattooed mummy was discovered by a Russian anthropologist in 1948, 120 miles north of the border between modern-day Russia and China. The mummy, a 50-year-old chief, had various tattoos of animals covering his body as well as circles of various sizes on his back. It was concluded that the mummified man had lived over 2,400 years ago. And later in 1991, the body of a tattooed man was discovered who had lived more than 5,000 years ago. Believed to have died in a snowstorm in the mountains between modern-day Austria and Italy, the man had several tattoos on the inside of his left knee and six straight lines 6 inches long above the kidneys.
The first tattoos could have very well been accidental. A sharpened spit used to roast meat may have left a char-coaled mark on the skin, a subsequent reminder of a successful kill. During ancient battles, daggers and spears were purposefully dusted with charcoal or color, and when they penetrated the flesh, they would have left more than a typical war scar. The proclaimed "Godfather of Modern Tattoos," Lyle Tuttle explains: "In the days when spears were sharpened by fire and friction, the tips got charred with a carbon residue. When a warrior was injured with one of these weapons and survived, there could be a permanent scar with black coloring. To them, it was like magic. It marked their wounds forever." These war wounds would have symbolized valor, bravery, and survival.
While many early tattoos were tied to war and rites of passage, some served as a reminder of loved ones who had passed away. In the Middle East, people would cut themselves and rub ash in the wound after a loved one died. This was seen as a sign of respect, and carried with it a lasting visual reminder of the deceased.
Did you Know?
Our first recorded use of the word tattoo can be traced to Captain James Cook's legendary journals detailing his exploration of the South Pacific in 1769. The word "tattoo" itself can be traced back to the Polynesian languages, specifically the Tahitian and Samoan tatau as well as the Marquesan tatu, meaning "puncture, mark made on skin."