One of the most famous stories about the first tattoos comes from the Bible. There it mentions the story of Cain and God. Cain committed an irreversible deed upon another and God placed a mark, or tattoo, on him to remind him of his treachery. While the origin of tattoos should not be tied directly to a particular religion, the story of Cain is a perfect example of how far back the origin of tattoos can be assumed. For thousands of years people have been branding themselves for religious or even medicinal reasons. While today they are common place, many years ago at their beginning stages tattoos would have been a rare thing to see on the common person.
Tattoos have long since been used by humans to decorate their bodies. The earliest tattoos have been found on the Iceman in Europe who dates back to more than 5,200 years old. However, many of the people of the greatest civilizations of history bore tattoos. In Southern Siberia scientists found elaborate tattoos of animals and totems on frozen chieftains. In China, it was common for criminals or slaves to be forced to get tattoos of the word “prisoner” on their face. Egyptians, part of the most ornate of all civilizations, tattooed designs on their faces, hands, and bodies. The conclusion can be made that tattoos do not have one single point of origin, at least that we know of today, but instead started at various points of the Earth in different civilizations.
Tattoos have been present in a lot of the largest civilizations that history has ever seen. From the Egyptians to the Japanese, cultures have taken the use of tattoos to another level and given the practice of tattooing a special significance within their respective traditions and rituals.
- Egypt: In Egypt, the practice of tattooing was used during rituals as well as during pregnancy as a means of anesthetic. Many of the patterns were geometric in nature and were either black or blue. The only ones found to date have been on female mummies, but Egyptian art shows both men and women with tattoos which means it can be assumed both genders received tattoos.
- Greece: The Greeks used tattoos for multiple reasons. During war, they would tattoo prisoners, but they also would use them to send secret messages behind the enemy lines. Slave owners used them to tattoo their slaves as a mark of ownership. Some of the most famous philosophers of Greece such as Plato believed that thieves and criminals should be branded for their crimes. Many of the “undesirables” of the area were branded on both the face and body.
- Japan: The Japanese held tattoos as extremely important within their culture. A large amount of the Japanese clay figures representing living people had facial tattoos and during the period of 300-600 A.D. tattoos were used as a punishment for the lowest class. Japan is also home to full body tattoos and the style that is most commonly associated with the culture is the large ornate nature and dragon scenes which became popular in the 19th century.
Tattoos started from humble beginnings, but they have become popular for people of all cultures. Used as decoration, in ceremonies, and even as medical solutions tattoos have played a big part in the cultures of people. The future of tattoos looks bright as they are abundant in today’s world and hopefully future generations will be able to see how important they have become in our society.