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The first known tattoo is on an Iceman, discovered on the Italian-Austrian border in 1991, and has been carbon dated at over 5,200 years old. The modern word “tattoo” was derived from the Tahitian word “tatatau” or “tattau” meaning to hit or strike.
Tattoos in the Ancient World
● The Iceman from the Italian-Austrian border – earliest known example of tattoos
○ Discovered in 1991
○ Iceman is carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old
○ Iceman’s tattoos consist of dots and small crosses on his lower spine, right knee and ankle joints
■ These locations correspond to areas of strain-induced degeneration
■ They may have been applied as therapy to alleviate joint pain
● Egyptian tattoos date back to 2000 B.C. – considered the oldest examples before the discovery of the Iceman
○ Evidence suggests that Egyptian tattooing was predominantly for females
○ These females were once thought to be royal concubines
■ One has been revealed as a high-priestess named Amunet
○ Some archaeologists believe the tattoos were meant to ward off sexually transmitted disease
○ Some believe the tattoos played a more therapeutic role
■ A permanent amulet for pregnancy and birth
○ The tattoos were usually distributed around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and breasts
■ Abdomen – Net-like dots were applied
● these would expand during pregnancy – amulet of safety
■ Thighs – Small figures of the household deity, Bes
● Bes was the protector of women in labor
● suggests a symbol of safeguarding during birth
■ These explain tattoos as a mainly female custom
● The Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountains – another ancient culture which used tattoos
○ 1948 – a 2,400 year old frozen body of a Scythian male was discovered in Siberia
■ His limbs and torso were covered in ornate tattoos of mythical animals
○ 1993 – a Scythian woman with tattooed mythical creatures on her shoulders, wrists and thumb, was found in a tomb in Altai
○ 450 B.C. – Greek writer, Herodotus, stated Scythian and Thracian tattoos were a mark of nobility
● Ancient Britons were also thought to use tattoos as a mark of high status
○ their tattoos were often of diverse shapes of beasts
○ Romans named one Briton tribe “Picti” – “the painted people”
● Greeks and Romans often used tattoos as a mark of “belonging”
■ Belonging to religious sects
■ Belonging to slave owners
■ A punitive measure to mark some as criminals
○ Roman soldiers also adopted the practice of tattoos
○ Tattoo fashion spread across the Roman Empire
■ With the emergence of Christianity, tattoos were looked on as disfigurement
■ Tattoos were banned by Emperor Constantine (A.D. 306-373)
● Native Americans, such as the Cree, used extensive facial tattoos
○ Six mummified Inuit women from A.D. 1475 were discovered with facial tattoos
■ Examination revealed five of the women had been tattooed in a line
● Lines extended over the eyebrows, along the cheeks
● Some also had a series of lines on the chin
Tattooing Tools; Old and New
● Tools that are thought to have been used for ancient tattooing
○ 1450 B.C. – Small bronze instruments resembling wide, flattened needles
○ 3000 B.C. – a sharp point set in a wooden handle
(both above discovered by archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie)
● 19th century Egypt – they also used several flattened needles
○ According to English writer Wlliam Lane (1801-1876)
○ Tattooing was performed with several needles tied together. The ink was a mix of soot or oil and breast milk of a woman
● Today’s tattoo tool is an electronically powered machine resembling a dental drill. It injects ink into the skin.
● The machine moves a solid needle up and down to puncture the skin
between 50 – 3,000 punctures per minute.
● The needle penetrates the skin by about a millimeter deep and deposits a drop of ink into the skin with each puncture
● The tattoo machine has remained relatively unchanged since the 1800’s
○ invented by Samuel O’Reilly and based on the autographic printer
■ an engraving machine invented by Thomas Edison
● The ink is deposited into the second layer or skin; the dermis
● Non-sterile tattooing can lead to diseases such as Hepatitis, tuberculosis, HIV and syphilis
Drawing Lines to the Modern World:
● Today, the country with the most tattoos is Brittain with an estimated 20 million designs
○ 2013: David Beckham unveiled his newest tattoo in China
■ The Chinese characters say, “Life and death are determined by fate, rank and riches decreed by Heaven.”
■ Beckham reportedly has a total of 15 tattoos
● Most tattooed man: Lucky Diamond Rich
○ Lucky holds the Guinness World Record for the most tattoos
○ He has spent over 1,000 hours being tattooed by more than 100 artists
○ Lucky has been 100% tattooed including his eyelids and between his toes
● One of the strangest modern tattoo is the eyeball tattoo
○ David Boltjes was the first to let his prison mate stab him in the eye with this unconventional, untested tattoo method
○ The tattoos change the color of the sclera (white part of the eye)
● Not just for skin: One of the newest tattoo methods is tooth tattoos
○ Dental technician/tattoo artist, Steve Heward founded Heward Dental Labs
○ He and his team of artists/technicians paint minute works of art onto dental crowns
○ The price is anywhere from $75 – $200 USD
Statistics about tattoos today
● Americans spend $1.65B on tattoos per year
● Percentage of US adults with at least one tattoo
○ ages 18-25: 36%
○ ages 26-40: 40%
● 45m Americans have at least one tattoo
● There are 21,000 tattoo parlors in the US
● Average cost of a tattoo is $45 (small) to $150/hour (large)
● 32% of Americans claim to be addicted to ink
● 11% have had a tattoo removed
● 43% consider personal meaning to be the most important factor
● 29% say their tattoos make them feel rebellious
● 31% say tattoos make them feel more sexy
What if you were your tattoo? Imagine what it would be like to transform into the ink you wear…
Mutation: into your Tattoo
Tattoo Transformation 2
Tattoo Transformation 3
Tattoo Transformation 4
artwork by: iain macarthur
Anyone who watches sports, movies or even A&E knows that tattoos have gone mainstream. Studies have shown that as many as one in every 2.5 adults under 40 has one, so if you don’t, someone in a nearby cubicle probably does. This surge in popularity has gained momentum since the 1970s, when painters-turned-tattooists brought fine arts sensibilities and limitless options… (“Washington Post“)
Main Styles of Tattoos
Thanks to modern inks and techniques, portraits and images get far closer to the ideal of “realism” than one from decades past.
Credit the “Alien” movies with inspiring this branch of surrealism, which depicts a combination of human and robot-like parts.
Just like the 20th century arts movement, this style covers everything from Salvador Dali to fantasy monsters and incoherent nightmares.
Fine line black and gray
This technique, pioneered in the mid-1970s in Los Angeles, involves subtly shaded, intricate designs and portraits rendered without color.
A modern U.S. trend sprang up in the mid-1980s, imitating the bold, dark, geometric tattoos common in many ancient tribal cultures.
Large symbolic designs, particularly Japanese, are considered timeless. Japanese koi morphing into dragons are a popular theme for arm “sleeves.”
Think Betty Boop, an anchor, or “Mom” in a heart. Before the 1970s, this was the only true style in the United States, when people collected tattoos like stamps. Designs were usually small with crisp lines, few colors and little subtlety. The style is enjoying a revival.
Not a style, but a name given to the printed designs on the walls of a tattoo shop. Beware as flash designs are subject to trends. Remember Tasmanian Devils in the 1980s?
This design was found on a 2,500-year-old mummy in Siberia. The oldest known tattoos were black tribal designs found on the “Iceman,” a European mummy estimated to be 5,200 years old.
Originally published as an interactive tattoo graphic by the Washington Post
Hundreds of tattoo enthusiasts gather at Mexico City’s World Trade Center for the Tattoo Art Mex 2012 convention.
Panda Tattoo Art Graffiti Illustration by: JHONALDO
Tattoo Age: Freddy Corbin, Part 1
In the first installment of the Freddy Corbin series, we get familiar with Freddy’s tattoos as well as see his two Oakland tattoo parlors, Temple and Tattoo 13. Freddy’s style is further explained by his right hand man and fellow tattooer, Jason Mcafee. We also got a chance to speak with another Oakland legend, pro skater and chopper guy, Max Schaaf, about understanding Mr. Corbin’s coolness.
Tattoo Age: Freddy Corbin, Part 2
Freddy Corbin has a long history in tattooing. Having worked with people like Dan Higgs and Ed Hardy early on in his career, Freddy has witnessed and made some important tattooing throughout his career. This episode also has some great archival, courtesy of Michael O. Stearns, from some tattoo documentaries in the early 90’s.