History of Tattooing

If you know anything about the art of tattooing, you probably know that it has been around for quite some time. What may come as a surprise, though, is just how old the art form really is. What may also come as a surprise is that the Western world was actually a little bit behind the times with tattooing, and there was in fact a period of time when tattooing was simply not performed in this part of the world. We will talk more about tattooing in North America in a later article, but for now, let’s take a look at how it all began in other parts of the world, and how tattoos were used for a variety of different functions in those places.
There are some historians who believe that tattooing dates back as far as 12,000 BC, but we know for sure that the practice was quite common in ancient Egypt. When the Egyptian empire began to grow and spread, the art of tattooing started to take root in other parts of the world. The Grecians in particular took to the art form quite quickly, and by the time 2000 BC rolled around, tattooing was also beginning to gain popularity in China.
Surprisingly enough, in some cultures it was women more than men who sported tattoos, and they did so to show off their status. There is no doubt that this particular inspiration came from Egypt, as women there were held in very high regard. There were a number of different uses for tattoos in different cultures. For example, the Greek would use tattoos to allow their spies to communicate with one another, while the Romans would routinely tattoo slaves and criminals so that the average person could see that they were in the presence of someone deemed to be less desirable than most.
In Polynesia, tattoos were used to create tribal distinctions, and from there, the art form spread to New Zealand, which is where the first facial tattoos, using a style known as Moko, were born. That ancient form of tattooing is still alive and well today. The Britons used tattooing in a number of different ceremonies, but it was not an art form that was particularly liked by the Normans. It may have been this hatred of tattooing that essentially caused it to disappear from the Western world from the 12th to the 16th century.
It was around this time that tattooing spread to Japan, and much like the Romans, they used it to mark criminals. They had 3 specific designs that signified the number of crimes that had been committed. Tattoos finally made their way back to the west after explorers travelled to Polynesia and became entranced with skin art. It was difficult for the art form to really catch on, mainly because of the painstaking process required to make it all happen. All of that changed when Samuel O’Reilly invented the first electric tattoo machine in 1891. That was when the modern era of tattooing really took hold.