All this hype about tattoos; celebrities flaunting new ones every day and people discussing their weird and whacko tattoos at water coolers. Ever wonder when and how it all started? Not the hype, I mean, but tattoos as an art form, and as an essential part of our creative history.
The beginning of tattooing can be traced as early as Ancient Egypt around 2000 B.C. Female mummies have been uncovered with tattoos that match the patterns etched on figurines from the same period, some associated with the Goddess Hathor. African tribes used to routinely scar parts of the body for ritual and identification purposes. These ritual cicatrices, or raised scars, would then be filled in with dark dyes extracted from plant sources. All male children of the Monomotapa (tribal leader) would be scarred with whorls of raised flesh on their cheeks, foreheads, and arms to identify them as the future tribe leaders.
In Japan, tattoos flourished during the Jomon, Yayoi and Kofun periods. Throughout the Yayoi period, 300 B.C. – 300 A.D., men in Japan and China decorated their faces and bodies to ward off serpents and evil forces and spirits. Native Americans were well known for their tattoos. In the ancient world, tattoos were used not just to identify people, but also to punish them! There were some interesting tattoo-based punishments on offer then.
In Europe, tattooing was an expensive art form, very elitist, and out of reach to the common people. Royalty such as King George V, Grand Duke Alexis of Russia and King Harold bore tattoos. Early Americans followed the European elitist response to tattoos.