With the emergence and popularity of tattoos in the last few decades, it’s common to ask how tattoos originated. Tattoos have a deep history that dates back centuries.
A tattoo is a body alteration that forms a design in between the epidermis and dermis layers of the skin. Nowadays, we are free to choose what we want to see on our skin. But this wasn’t always the case. Tattoos carried a different significance and were even mandatory in some cultures.
Today, the focus will be on the Ancient Egyptians.
The earliest tattoo was discovered on Otzi the Iceman in 1991. The Iceman was carbon dated at 5200 years old and believed to be from the Italian-Austrian border. Other early tattoo evidence includes ancient Egyptian woman mummies from c. 2000 B.C.
It is said that early tattoos were used for therapeutic purposes. The Iceman’s tattoos were located along his spine, right knee, and ankle joints, showing that tattoos offered relief. Since these locations are not visible, they couldn’t be seen as status symbols like in other cultures.
One of Otzi the Iceman’s tattoos. This one resembles a bracelet on his wrist.
TATTOOS & ANCIENT EGYPT:
Women were tattooed more than men during the Ancient Egyptian period. Their oldest bronze tattoo tools were found in Northern Egypt and dated c. 1450 B.C. Supporting the findings were tomb scenes dated from c. 1200 B.C., which depicted women with tattoos all over their bodies.
At first, many thought that women were tattooed during this time to signal that they had lower status. However, this idea was debunked because their findings were made at locations of royal burial grounds. The research revealed that one of the women mummies found was a high priestess.
Moreover, the locations where women received their tattoos suggest that they used tattoos for therapeutic purposes to help with the pains of pregnancy. Many tattoos on the female mummies included the abdomen, upper thighs, and breasts. Their tattoo designs correlated with the idea that the purpose was to alleviate pain. An example is the design of Bes, said to be a protector of women in labour, found on the upper thighs of women, affirming that tattoos were mostly a feminine practice during this era.
Details of the Ancient Egyptian abdominal tattoos.
WHO INVENTED TATTOOS:
It is unclear who invented tattoos due to the lack of evidence from the Ancient Egyptian period. However, older women in the community would tattoo the younger ones, a practice which still occurs in some cultures.
ANCIENT TATTOO TOOLS:
The first tattoo tools were said to be found in c. 3000 B.C. at an Abydros site and featured a sharp point inside a wooden handle. Other tools believed to be tattooing instruments include bronze shafts with multiple flat needles combined. These instruments would create a dotted pattern similar to the early tattoo designs during 19th century Egypt.
HOW DID THESE TATTOOS LOOK?
These tattoos were mostly large dotted and diamond geometric patterns. However, naturalistic designs were found on figurines and the deity Bes on females in tomb scenes.
The tattoos were dark for the most part. They were coloured black using soot. However, coloured tattoos were common in other ancient traditions, such as yellow tattoos in ancient Inuit cultures.
Ancient Egyptian Tattooed Figurine
Tattoos were strategically planned and well-placed. Here at Flame Wise Ink, we continue to line tattoos with the body to make the movement look natural.
While other cultures used tattoos to signify social status and belonging, for spiritual purposes, as a form of punishment, or banned tattoos altogether, like the Roman Empire during the emergence of Christianity, tattoos have a rich history that keeps expanding.
We’re thrilled to help you add your chapter!
If you haven’t decided yet what tattoo you want to get, claim and book your free consultation with one of our professional tattoo artists.