Written on Our Skin: A Brief History of Tattoos
At its heart, tattooing is simply the art of making marks on our skin, either permanently or not. It can represent something as meaningful as religious beliefs, ancestry, or status, but it can also be a way to celebrate your individuality and artistic taste.
Tattoos have been around since 4th century BCE. The earliest example that has ever been found was on Ötzi the Iceman, a mummified man found near Bolzano, Italy. Carbon dating shows that Ötzi was alive around 3300 BCE. When he was excavated, archaeologists found that his skin was covered in tattoos.
Ever since the discovery of Ötzi, people have been interested in piecing together the history of tattoos. Here are a few notable events and key details about the history of tattooing.
Tattoos for healing
When Ötzi was unearthed, he carried evidence of 61 unique tattoos on his body. Later radiological examination showed that these tattoos corresponded to places on his body where joints or bones had already weakened. This led to the speculation that Ötzi’s tattoos were a form of medicine, marked on those areas to help heal his pain.
While other, older tattoos are now considered to be purely cosmetic, the second-oldest purpose is widely considered to be medicinal. Anthropologist Lars Krutak recently published a paper where he revealed that 80% of the tattoos found on Ötzi correspond with areas now known to be classical Chinese acupuncture points.