Humans have marked their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These permanent designs—sometimes plain, sometimes elaborate, always personal—have served as amulets, status symbols, declarations of love, signs of religious beliefs, adornments and even forms of punishment. Joann Fletcher, research fellow in the department of archaeology at the University of York in Britain, describes thehistory of tattoos and their cultural significance to people around the world, from the famous " Iceman," a 5,200-year-old frozen mummy, to today’s Maori.
What is the earliest evidence of tattoos?
In terms of tattoos on actual bodies, the earliest known examples were for a long time Egyptian and were present on several female mummies dated to c. 2000 B.C. But following the more recent discovery ofthe Iceman from the area of the Italian-Austrian border in 1991 and his tattoo patterns, this date has been pushed back a further thousand years when he was carbon-dated at around 5,200 years old.
What function did these tattoos serve? Who got them and why?
Because this seemed to be an exclusively female practice in ancient Egypt, mummies found with tattoos were usually dismissed by the (male)excavators who seemed to assume the women were of "dubious status," described in some cases as "dancing girls." The female mummies had nevertheless been buried at Deir el-Bahari (opposite modern Luxor) in an area associated with royal and elite burials, and we know that at least one of the women described as "probably a royal concubine" was actually a high-status priestess named Amunet, asrevealed by her funerary inscriptions.
And although it has long been assumed that such tattoos were the mark of prostitutes or were meant to protect the women against sexually transmitted diseases, I personally believe that the tattooing of ancient Egyptian women had a therapeutic role and functioned as a permanent form of amulet during the very difficult time of pregnancy and birth. This is supportedby the pattern of distribution, largely around the abdomen, on top of the thighs and the breasts, and would also explain the specific types of designs, in particular the net-like distribution of dots applied over the abdomen. During pregnancy, this specific pattern would expand in a protective fashion in the same way bead nets were placed over wrapped mummies to protect them and "keep everythingin." The placing of small figures of the household deity Bes at the tops of their thighs would again suggest the use of tattoos as a means of safeguarding the actual birth, since Bes was the protector of women in labor, and his position at the tops of the thighs a suitable location. This would ultimately explain tattoos as a purely female custom.
The Ancient and Mysterious History
*By Cate Lineberry
* Smithsonian.com, January 01, 2007,
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html?c=y&page=1 and http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/tattoo.html?c=y&page=2
Evidence from ancient Egypt, Greenland, Siberia, and New Zealand shows how truly global the tattooer's art is — and how old. In fact, tattooing had existed for thousands of yearsbefore England's Captain Cook encountered it in the South Pacific in 1769. Merchant and naval seamen soon spread the art to Europe and America. But while its meaning has varied from people to people and from place to place, tattooing has most often served as a sign of social status, as a mark of one's passage through life, or simply as a way to beautify the body.
Once regarded in the West asfrightening and repulsive, the tattoo has enjoyed great popularity in our own culture in recent years. Everywhere we look today — movies, advertisements, television-are signs that people of all walks of life appreciate and practice the art of the tattoo.
Origin of Tattooing
Believe it or not, some scientists say that certain marks on the skin of the Iceman, a mummified human body dating from...
Leer documento completo
Regístrate para leer el documento completo.