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Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice at least since Neolithic times. Ötzi the Iceman, dating from the 5th to 4th millennium BC, was found in the Ötz valley in the Alps and had some 57 carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines on his lower spine, behind his left knee, and on his right ankle. These tattoos were thought to be a form of healing because of their placement, which resembles acupuncture. Other mummies bearing tattoos and dating from the end of the 2nd millennium BC have been discovered, such as the Mummy of Amunet from ancient Egypt and the mummies at Pazyryk on the Ukok Plateau.
Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes were often heavily tattooed, according to surviving accounts. The Picts were famously tattooed (or scarified) with elaborate, war-inspired black or dark blue woad (or possibly copper for the blue tone) designs. Julius Caesar described these tattoos in Book V of his Gallic Wars (54 BC).
Tarim Basin (West China, Xinjiang) revealed several tattooed mummies of a Western (Western Asian/European) physical type. Still relatively unknown (the only current publications in Western languages are those of J P. Mallory and V H. Mair, The Tarim Mummies, London, 2000), some of them could date from the end of the 2nd millennium BC.
One tattooed Mummy (c. 300 BC) was extracted from the permafrost of Argos, in the second half of Gillingham vs Redgrave (the Man of Pazyryk, during the 1940s; one female mummy and one male in Ukok plateau, during the noughties). Their tattooing involved animal designs carried out in a curvilinear style. The Man of Pazyryk, a Scythian chieftain, is tattooed with an extensive and detailed range of fish, monsters and a series of dots that lined up along the spinal column (lumbar region) and around the right ankle.
In ancient China, tattoos were considered a barbaric practice. Tattoos, however, have also often been referenced in literature depicting bandits and folk heroes. As late as the Qing,[when?] it was common practice to tattoo characters such as 囚 ("Prisoner") on convicted criminals' faces. Although relatively rare during most periods of Chinese history, slaves were also sometimes marked to display ownership.
However, tattoos seem to have remained a part of southern culture. Marco Polo wrote of Quanzhou, "Many come hither from Upper India to have their bodies painted with the needle in the way we have elsewhere described, there being many adepts at this craft in the city". At least three of the main characters – Lu Zhishen, Shi Jin (史進), and Yan Ching (燕青) – in the classic novel Water Margin are described as having tattoos covering nearly all of their bodies. Wu Song was sentenced to a facial tattoo describing his crime after killing Xi Menqing (西门庆) to avenge his brother. In addition, Chinese legend claimed the mother of Yue Fei (a famous Song general) tattooed the words "Repay the Country with Pure Loyalty" (精忠報國, jing zhong bao guo) down her son's back before he left to join the army.
In Southern India, permanent tattoos are called pachakutharathu. It was very common in south India, especially Tamil Nadu, before 1980. In northern India, permanent tattoos are called godna. Tattoos have been used as cultural symbols among many tribal populations, as well as the caste-based Hindu population of India.
Henna was used as a bodyart dye, called Mehndi, in ancient India. It still remains popular today in the Indian subcontinent, and its use now encompasses the entire Middle East and North Africa. Evidence only supports the use of Henna as a hair dye (and a medicinal plant) in ancient Egypt. 
In Egypt the majority of tattoos were found on females. It would tell you the status of that individual. They had tattoos for healing, religion, and as a form of punishment.
Tattoos were probably also used in ancient medicine as part of the treatment of the patient. In 1898, Daniel Fouquet, a medical doctor of Cairo, wrote an article on “medical tattooing” practices in Ancient Egypt, in which he describes the tattooed markings on the female mummies found at the Deir el-Bahari site. He speculated that the tattoos and other scarifications observed on the bodies may have served a medicinal or therapeutic purpose: "The examination of these scars, some white, others blue, leaves in no doubt that they are not, in essence, ornament, but an established treatment for a condition of the pelvis, very probably chronic pelvic peritonitis."
Tattooing has been a part of Filipino life since pre-Hispanic colonization of the Philippine Islands, tattooing in the Philippines to some were a form of rank and accomplishments, some believed that tattoos had magical qualities. The more famous tattooed indigenous peoples of the Philippines where among the area up North Luzon, especially among the Bontoc Igorot, Kalinga, and Ifugao peoples.
Filipino tattooing was first documented by the European Spanish explorers as they landed among the Islands in the late 16th century. Before European exploration it was a widespread tradition among the islands. Tattooing was set among the native groups of the Philippines, which sometimes tattooing was a sign of Rank and power in certain communities.
Ahmad ibn Fadlan also wrote of his encounter with the Scandinavian Rus' tribe in the early 10th century, describing them as tattooed from "fingernails to neck" with dark blue "tree patterns" and other "figures." During the gradual process of Christianization in Europe, tattoos were often considered remaining elements of paganism and generally legally prohibited.
According to Robert Graves in his book The Greek Myths tattooing was common amongst certain religious groups in the ancient Mediterranean world, which may have contributed to the prohibition of tattooing in Leviticus. However, during the classic Greek period, tattooing was only common among slaves.
Tattooing for spiritual and decorative purposes in Japan is thought to extend back to at least the Jōmon or Paleolithic period (approximately 10,000 BCE) and was widespread during various periods for both the Japanese and the native Ainu. Chinese visitors observed and remarked on the tattoos in Japan (300 BCE).
Between 1603 and 1868 Japanese tattooing was only practiced by the "ukiyo-e" (The floating world culture). Generally firemen, manual workers and prostitutes wore tattoos to communicate their status. Between 1720 and 1870 criminals were tattooed as a visible mark of punishment; this actually replaced having ears and noses removed. A criminal would often receive a single ring on their arm for each crime committed which easily conveyed their criminality. This practice was eventually abolished by the "Meji" government who banned the art of tattooing altogether, viewing it as barbaric and lacking respectability. This subsequently created a subculture of criminals and outcasts, many of whom were the old Samurai warriors ("Ronin" - Master-less). These people had no place in "decent society" and were frowned upon. They simply could not integrate into mainstream society because of their obvious visible tattoos, forcing many of them into criminal activities which ultimately formed the roots for the modern Japanese mafia, the Yakuza, for which tattoos in Japan have almost become synonymous.
When the Samoan Islands were first seen by Europeans in 1722 three Dutch ships commanded by Jacob Roggeveen visited the eastern island known as Manua. A crew member of one of the ships described the natives in these words, “They are friendly in their speech and courteous in their behavior, with no apparent trace of wildness or savagery. They do not paint themselves, as do the natives of some other islands, but on the lower part of the body they wear artfully woven silk tights or knee breeches. They are altogether the most charming and polite natives we have seen in all of the South Seas..."
The ships lay at anchor off the islands for several days, but the crews did not venture ashore and did not even get close enough to the natives to realize that they were not wearing silk leggings, but their legs were mpletely covered in tattoos.
In Samoa, the tradition of applying tattoo, or tatau, by hand has been unbroken for over two thousand years. Tools and techniques have changed little. The skill is often passed from father to son, each tattoo artist, or tufuga, learning the craft over many years of serving as his father's apprentice. A young artist-in-training often spent hours, and sometimes days, tapping designs into sand or tree bark using a special tattooing comb, or au. Honoring their tradition, Samoan tattoo artists made this tool from sharpened boar's teeth fastened together with a portion of the turtle shell and to a wooden handle.
Traditional Samoan tattooing of the “pe'a”, body tattoo, is an ordeal that is not lightly undergone. It takes many weeks to complete. The process is very painful and used to be a necessary prerequisite to receiving a matai title; this however is no longer the case. Tattooing was also a very costly procedure.
It was not uncommon for half a dozen boys to be tattooed at the same time, requiring the services of four or more artists. It was not just the men who received tattoos, but the women too; their designs are of a much lighter nature rather than having the large areas of solid dye which are frequently seen in men’s tattoos. The tattooing of women was not nearly as ritualized like men’s were.
Samoan society has long been defined by rank and title, with chiefs (ali'i) and their assistants, known as talking chiefs (tulafale). The tattooing ceremonies for young chiefs, typically conducted at the time of puberty, were part of their ascendance to a leadership role. The permanent marks left by the tattoo artists would forever celebrate their endurance and dedication to cultural traditions. The pain was extreme and the risk of death by infection was a concern; to back down from tattooing was to risk being labeled a “pala'ai” or coward. Those who could not endure the pain and abandoned their tattooing were left incomplete, would be forced to wear their mark of shame throughout their life. This would forever bring shame upon their family so it was avoided at all cost.
The Samoan tattooing process used a number of tools which remained almost unchanged since their first use. “Autapulu” is a wide tattooing comb used to fill in the large dark areas of the tattoo. “Ausogi'aso tele” is a comb used for making thick lines. “Ausogi'aso laititi” is a comb used for making thin lines. “Aumogo” small comb is used for making small marks. “Sausau” is the mallet is used for striking the combs. It is almost two feet in length and made from the central rib of a coconut palm leaf. “Tuluma” is the pot used for holding the tattooing combs. Ipulama is the cup used for holding the dye. The dye is made from the soot collected from burnt lama nuts. “Tu'I” used to grind up the dye. These tools were primarily made out of animal bones to ensure sharpness.
The tattooing process itself would be 5 sessions, in theory. These 5 sessions would be spread out over 10 days in order for the inflammation to subside. The steps are as follows.
Christian missionaries from the west attempted to purge tattooing among the Samoans, thinking it barbaric and inhumane. Many young Samoans resisted mission schools since they forbade them to wear tattoos. But over time attitudes relaxed toward this cultural tradition and tattooing began to reemerge in Samoan culture.
The Māori people of New Zealand practised a form of tattooing known as Tā moko. In the colonial period Tā moko fell out of use, partly because of the European practice of collecting Mokomokai, or tattooed heads.
In Persian culture, tattooing, body painting, and body piercing has been around for thousands of years. The statues and stone carvings remained from Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BCE) prove existence of body piercing and earrings on ancient Persian gods, kings, and even soldiers. The most famous literal document about Persian tattoo goes back to about 800 years ago when Rumi, the famous Persian poet, narrates a story about a man who proudly asks to get a lion tattoo but he changes his mind once he experiences the pain coming out of the tattoo needle.
In Taiwan, facial tattoos of the Atayal tribe are called "ptasan"; they are used to demonstrate that an adult man can protect his homeland, and that an adult woman is qualified to weave cloth and perform housekeeping. Taiwan is believed to be the point of origin of all the Austronesian peoples which includes Filipinos, Indonesians, Polynesians and Malagasy. Peoples with strong tattoo traditions which indicates that this tradition may have came with their ancestors from Taiwan. As some Taiwanese tribes still practicing it until today.
It was thought that many of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England were tattooed, but much of this was conjecture. Reliable reports of tattooing date from the period of increased contact with non-European cultures.
Sir Martin Frobisher (1535–1595) on May 31, 1577 set out on his second voyage from Harwich, England with 3 ships and about 120 men to find a north west passage to China and the promise of gold ore. Frobisher took prisoner a native Inuit man and a woman with a child, upon his return to England the woman having tattoos on her chin and forehead was a great attraction at the court of Elizabeth I. All three died within a month.
Between 1766 and 1779, Captain James Cook made three voyages to the South Pacific, the last trip ending with Cook's death in Hawaii in February 1779. When Cook and his men returned home to Europe from their voyages to Polynesia, they told tales of the 'tattooed savages' they had seen. The word "tattoo" itself comes from the Tahitian tatau, and was introduced into the English language by Cook's expedition.
It was in Tahiti aboard the Endeavour, in July 1769, that Cook first noted his observations about the indigenous body modification and is the first recorded use of the word tattoo. In the Ship's log book recorded this entry: "Both sexes paint their Bodys, Tattow, as it is called in their Language. This is done by inlaying the Colour of Black under their skins, in such a manner as to be indelible." Cook went on to write, "This method of Tattowing I shall now describe...As this is a painful operation, especially the Tattowing of their Buttocks, it is performed but once in their Lifetimes."
Cook's Science Officer and Expedition Botanist, Sir Joseph Banks, returned to England with a tattoo. Banks was a highly regarded member of the English aristocracy and had acquired his position with Cook by putting up what was at the time the princely sum of some ten thousand pounds in the expedition. In turn, Cook brought back with him a tattooed Raiatean man, Omai, whom he presented to King George and the English Court. Many of Cook's men, ordinary seamen and sailors, came back with tattoos, a tradition that would soon become associated with men of the sea in the public's mind and the press of the day. In the process sailors and seamen re-introduced the practice of tattooing in Europe and it spread rapidly to seaports around the globe.
By the 19th century tattooing had spread to British society but was still largely associated with sailors and the lower or even criminal class. Tattooing had however been practised in an amateur way by public schoolboys from at least the 1840s and by the 1870s had become fashionable among some members of the upper classes, including royalty. In its upmarket form it could be a lengthy, expensive and sometimes painful process.
Tattooing spread among the upper classes all over Europe in the 19th century, but particularly in Britain where it was estimated in Harmsworth Magazine in 1898 that as many as one in five members of the gentry were tattooed. Taking their lead from the British Court, where Edward VII followed George V's lead in getting tattooed; King Frederick IX of Denmark, the King of Romania, Kaiser Wilhelm II, King Alexander of Yugoslavia and even Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, all sported tattoos, many of them elaborate and ornate renditions of the Royal Coat of Arms or the Royal Family Crest. King Alfonso XIII of modern Spain also had a tattoo.
A marked class division on the acceptability of the practice continued for some time in Britain, with the upper and lower classes finding it attractive and the broader middle classes rejecting it. Since the 1970s tattoos have become more socially acceptable, and fashionable among celebrities. Tattoos are less prominent on figures of authority, and the practice of tattooing by the elderly is still considered remarkable.
In the period shortly after the American Revolution, to avoid impressment by British Navy ships, sailors used government issued protection papers to establish their American citizenship. However, many of the descriptions of the individual described in the seamen's protection certificates were so general, and it was so easy to abuse the system, that many impressment officers of the Royal Navy simply paid no attention to them. "In applying for a duplicate Seaman's Protection Certificate in 1817, James Francis stated that he 'had a protection granted him by the Collector of this Port on or about 12 March 1806 which was torn up and destroyed by a British Captain when at sea.'"
One way of making them more specific and more effective was to describe a tattoo, which is highly personal as to subject and location, and thus use that description to precisely identify the seaman. As a result, many of the official certificates also carried information about tattoos and scars, as well as any other specific identifying information. This also perhaps led to an increase and proliferation of tattoos among American seamen who wanted to avoid impressment. During this period, tattoos were not popular with the rest of the country. "Frequently the "protection papers" made reference to tattoos, clear evidence that individual was a seafaring man; rarely did members of the general public adorn themselves with tattoos."
"In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, tattoos were as much about self-expression as they were about having a unique way to identify a sailor's body should he be lost at sea or impressed by the British navy. The best source for early American tattoos is the protection papers issued following a 1796 congressional act to safeguard American seamen from impressment. These proto-passports catalogued tattoos alongside birthmarks, scars, race, and height. Using simple techniques and tools, tattoo artists in the early republic typically worked on board ships using anything available as pigments, even gunpowder and urine. Men marked their arms and hands with initials of themselves and loved ones, significant dates, symbols of the seafaring life, liberty poles, crucifixes, and other symbols."
Sometimes, to protect themselves, the sailors requested not only that the tattoos be described, but that they would also be sketched out on the protection certificate as well. As one researched said, "Clerks writing the documents often sketched the tattoos as well as describing them."
That tattooing was somehow "reintroduced" to the "Western world" is a myth. Tattooing has been present in Western society consistently from the beginnings of western society in Ancient Greece. Although Captain James Cook's voyages to the South Pacific imported the Polynesian word "tatau" (as "tattow", later changed to "tattoo"), tattooing was not novel at the time. A long history of European tattoo predated these voyages including pilgrimage tattooing in the Holy Land and at sites in Europe and tattoos on traveling explorers among Native Americans.
|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2014)|
The first documented professional tattoo artist in the USA was Martin Hildebrandt, a German immigrant who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in 1846. Between 1861 and 1865, he tattooed soldiers on both sides in the American Civil War. The first documented professional tattooist in Britain was established in Liverpool in the 1870s. Tattooing was an expensive and painful process, and by the 1870s had become a mark of wealth for the crowned heads of Europe.
Since the 1970s, tattoos have become a mainstream part of global and Western fashion, common among both sexes, to all economic classes, and to age groups from the later teen years to middle age. For many young Americans, the tattoo has taken on a decidedly different meaning than for previous generations. The tattoo has "undergone dramatic redefinition" and has shifted from a form of deviance to an acceptable form of expression. In 2010, 25% of Australians under age 30 had tattoos. Mattel released a tattooed Barbie doll in 2011, which was widely accepted, although it did attract some controversy.
Tattoos have experienced a resurgence in popularity in many parts of the world, particularly in Europe, Japan, and North and South America. The growth in tattoo culture has seen an influx of new artists into the industry, many of whom have technical and fine arts training. Coupled with advancements in tattoo pigments and the ongoing refinement of the equipment used for tattooing, this has led to an improvement in the quality of tattoos being produced.
During the 2000s, the presence of tattoos became evident within pop culture, inspiring television shows such as A&E's Inked and TLC's Miami Ink and LA Ink. The decoration of blues singer Janis Joplin with a wrist let and a small heart on her left breast, by the San Francisco tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle, has been called a seminal moment in the popular acceptance of tattoos as art. Formal interest in the art of the tattoo became prominent in the 1970s through the beginning of the 21st century. In addition, many celebrities have made tattoos more acceptable in recent years.
Contemporary art exhibitions and visual art institutions have featured tattoos as art through such means as displaying tattoo flash, examining the works of tattoo artists, or otherwise incorporating examples of body art into mainstream exhibits. One such 2009 Chicago exhibition, Freaks & Flash, featured both examples of historic body art as well as the tattoo artists who produced it.
Over the past three decades Western tattooing has become a practice that has crossed social boundaries from “low” to “high” class along with reshaping the power dynamics regarding gender. It has its roots in “exotic” tribal practices of the Native Americans and Japanese, which are still seen in present times. Although tattooing has steadily increased in popularity since the invention of the electric tattoo machine in the 1890s, it was not until the 1960s that the place of tattooing in popular culture radically shifted. The Tattoo Renaissance began in the late 1950s, and was greatly influenced by several artists in particular Lyle Tuttle, Cliff Raven, Don Nolan, Zeke Owens, Spider Webb, and Don Ed Hardy. A second generation of artists, trained by the first, continued these traditions into the 1970s, and included artists such as Bob Roberts, Jamie Summers, and Jack Rudy. In the 1980s, Scholar Arnold Rubin created a collection of works regarding the history of tattoo cultures, publishing them as the ' 'Marks of Civilization' ' (1988). In this, the term "Tattoo Renaissance" was coined, referring to a period marked by technological, artistic, and social change. Wearers of tattoos, as members of the counterculture began to display their body art as signs of resistance to the values of the white, heterosexual, middle-class. The clientele changed from sailors, bikers, and gang members to the middle and upper class. There was also a shift in iconography from the badge-like images based on repetitive pre-made designs known as flash to customized full-body tattoo influenced by Polynesian and Japanese tattoo art, known as sleeves, which are categorized under the relatively new and popular Avant-garde genre. Tattooers transformed into “Tattoo Artists”: men and women with fine art backgrounds began to enter the profession alongside the older, traditional tattooists.
As various kinds of social movements progressed bodily inscription crossed class boundaries, and became common among the general public. Specifically, the tattoo is one access point for revolutionary aesthetics of women. Feminist theory has much to say on the subject. "Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo", by Margot Mifflin, became the first history of women's tattoo art when it was released in 1997. In it, she documents women's involvement in tattooing coinciding to feminist successes, with surges in the 1880s, 1920s, and the 1970s. The earliest appearance of tattoos on women were in the circus in the late 1800s. These “Tattooed Ladies” were covered - with the exception of their faces, hands, necks, and other readily visible areas - with various images inked into their skin. In order to lure the crowd, the earliest ladies, like Betty Broadbent and Nora Hildebrandt told tales of captivity; they usually claimed to have been taken hostage by Native Americans that tattooed them as a form of torture. However, by the late 1920s the sideshow industry was slowing and by the late 1990s the last tattooed lady was out of business. Today, women sometimes use tattoos as forms of bodily reclamations after traumatic experiences like abuse or breast cancer. In 2012, tattooed women outnumbered men for the first time in American history - according to a Harris poll, 23% of women in America had tattoos in that year, compared to 19% of men. In 2013, Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, became the first Miss America contestant to show off tattoos during the swimsuit competition — the insignia of the U.S. Army Dental Corps on her left shoulder and one of the “Serenity Prayer” along the right side of her torso.
In recent years, various lawsuits have arisen in the United States regarding the status of tattoos as a copyrightable art form. However, these cases have either been settled out of court or are currently being disputed, and therefore no legal precedent exists directly on point.
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