Scientists have recorded marks on the skin of mummified bodies, dating back to approximately 3300 BC as being tattoos. Egyptian and Nubian mummies have been found with tattoos which date back to 2000 BC, with classical authors mentioning the use of tattoos in connection with Greeks, ancient Germans, Thracians and ancient Britons.
Evidence show tattoos as being a global practice, being discovered in ancient Egypt, Greenland, Siberia and New Zealand thousands of years before Captain Cook encountered it in the South Pacific with merchant and naval seamen bringing the art to Europe and America. While its meaning varies from place to place, tattoos have most often served as a sign of one’s passage through life or simply of beautifying the body.
Tattoos in the west were once regarded as repulsive, but has gone on to enjoy great popularity in recent years with people from every walk of life. Every where we look, we find people sporting all manner of tattoos.
October 1991 saw a five thousand year old man sporting a number of tattoos making headlines all over the world when his frozen body was discovered on a mountain between Austria and Italy. There were clothes, a bow with arrows, a bronze axe and flint for making a fire. It appeared that the man had been out hunting and was caught in a snow storm as he tried returning home. He is the only body from the Bronze Age found in a glacier and is the best preserved corpse ever discovered. Although small, fifty eight tattoos were counted on his body. Tools or instruments that are thought to have been used for tattooing were discovered, dated back between 10.000BC -38.000 BC along with clay and stone figure engraved with designs. Although his tattoos do not appear to represent anything and the truth may never be found, theories and speculations can only be made.
Archeologists excavated a the first of a long row of graves in the Altai Mountains of Southern Siberia just after the second world war that had been full of permanently frozen ice keeping everything in them perfectly preserved. In the second grave, archeologists found a well preserved Chieftain with some excellent tattoos which are the oldest known picture tattoos depicting totems and game animals. They had been done in a very distinctive style which was repeated in everything else that was made in that particular time.
Many Indians tribes in North and South America tattooed themselves routinely on the body and face simply by pricking, while other tribes in California introduced color into their scratches. Many tribes of the Artic, mostly Inuit, and some people from Siberia made punctures with needles in which a thread coated with pigment was drawn under the skin, while in Polynesia, Pigment was pricked into the skin by tapping on a tool shaped like a small rake.
The Maori from New Zealand are famous for their tattooing done in the style by making shallow colored grooves in distinctive, complex designs on the face and buttocks by striking a small bone-cutting tool into the skin. When the Europeans arrived in the 1700s, the Maori began using the metal that settlers brought with them for a more conventional style of tattooing.