Zzzzzzz…zzz.zzzzzz. Oh hey guys. I was just getting a new tattoo. Have you ever wondered when tattooing became a thing?
In 1991 two German Hikers stumbled upon a man who’s bodied had been preserved for 5,000 years by being frozen in a glacier. Historians call this guy Otzi the Iceman. When his body was studied they found that he had over 57 tattoos. Otzi is the most ancient of humans that has been discovered with tattoos.
There are also mummies from the ancient worlds of Egypt and Nubia that have been found to have tattoos of dots, lines and other markings. While the purposes and meanings of those tattoos are not well known – it makes it clear that we definitely have some commonalities with our ancient ancestors.
Tattooing has also been considered a taboo in ancient history. The taboo of tattooing goes as far back as the roots of Judaism and Christianity. The first Christian emperor of Rome, Constantine, officially banned the practice of facial tattooing in 316 due to his Christian beliefs. Many people today are familiar with the full body tattoos of the infamous Japanese gangsters – the Yakuza.
Japan, like many other cultures, has a deep history of tattoos. However it became unpopular there from the 700s to the 1700s when Japanese officials decided to use the art as a way to punish criminals for their crimes. Similarly to the Yakuza, Russian gangsters are covered in tattoos. One of the earliest accounts of tattoos in Russia was in the 900s when an official from the Arabian peninsula was traveling through the region and ran into a group of European men who were tattooed from “fingernails to neck” with dark lines and other figures on their bodies.
Tattooing didn’t become popularized in the west until the Polynesian islands were discovered by Captain James Cook. The Polynesian people have a tradition of detailed facial tattoos that are often related to their status in their tribes and their tribal history. About 100 years later, the first tattooing parlor of the United States was opened up in New York City by a man named Martin Hildebrandt. Hildebrandt mostly serviced soldiers who fought in the Civil War and didn’t discriminate between sides – he tattooed both northern and southerners.
In 1961 Tattoos were banned in New York City and it was declared it to be “unlawful for any person to tattoo a human being.” It remained illegal to tattoo anyone there until 1997. Since then tattoos have become a part of mainstream American culture – which at one time a sign of defiance – now has become an acceptable form of expression.
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