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The Amazing History of Tattoos

Updated on July 7, 2016
Lisawilliamsj profile image

Lisa is a substitute teacher who studies English Literature. She lives to write and is following her dream of becoming a professor.

I knew a man who swore that he would never get a tattoo. He claimed that they were just rebellious acts of self expression, only used by criminals and misfits. He grew up in a close-nit family; his father was a preacher, and a clock maker. After his father passed away, his opinion soon changed. He had a dream the night he lost his father, in the dream he saw a big grandfathers clock with bright light all around it, floating up to Heaven.The very next day he went and got a marvelous tattoo, of an angel, embracing a grandfather’s clock. This made me ask myself; what reasons do people around the world, receive tattoos, and what is the history behind the act of tattooing? During my research, I came to the realization that tattoos are not just rebellious acts of self expression; they have been used for medicinal purposes, in spiritual rituals, and even as a form of punishment.

Tattoos have been around for thousands of years. The science world has accepted previously that the oldest evidence of tattooing was found in Egypt. Specifically tattooed female figurines were found dating back to 3500 B.C. Female's drawn into tomb scenes, and other female figurines were found dating back to 1200 and 1300 B.C With tattoos on their thighs. Additionally discovered, were small instruments made of bronze, recognized as tattooing tools, dating back to 1450B.C. By the same token, three female Tattooed mummies were found dating back to 2000B.C, Lineberry (2007). However, the 1991 discovery of Ice Man, found around the Italian-Austrian border, has pushed the previously mentioned date back another thousand years; to around 5200 B.C. Amazingly, Ice man had 58 separate tattoos, Rush (2005).


Interestingly, many of Ice man's tattoos’ were located over arthritic joints. In fact, Ice man's tattoos, were mostly groups of parallel lines. Besides, some of the tattoos were placed in acupuncture locations used for relieving pain, anesthesia, promoting endurance, and detoxification, Rush (2005).Additionally, Lineberry believed that the reason tattoos were only found on women in Ancient Egypt, was because tattooing was used as an aid in giving birth. Specifically, tattoos were placed on the thighs and abdomen, and formed in a protective fashion, Lineberry (2007).

Even in today's world of technology, doctors sometimes use tattooing in medical procedures. Tattoos are used in accordance with radiation and reconstructive surgery. Essentially, during radiation therapy for cancer patients, a precise target must be hit every time. So the medical professionals, sometimes, tattoo a target pattern onto the skin so that they know they are accurately treating the cancer.

Additionally, in reconstructive surgery tattoos are used for multiple reasons. One way that tattoos are used for reconstructive purposes is for coloring in an areola after a mastectomy. A mastectomy is the removal of a breast, usually after a diagnosis of breast cancer. This procedure helps the recipient to go on with their lives, with a better self image. Another use for tattoos in today’s medical world is, returning a person’s skin pigmentation back to its original color after a burn or genetic disorder, Rae Schwarz (2009). Evidence shows that tattoos may have been used for medicinal purposes, dating back to the first tattoos and, still continue to be used for this purpose even today.

Although there is striking evidence that early tattoos were used vastly for medicinal purposes, there is also evidence that shows tattoos have played a key role in the spirituality of some cultures, throughout history. Rush discusses an instance in which statuettes with tattoos representing fertility and rejuvenation, were placed in tombs as offerings. Of course, in Ancient Egypt, sexuality went hand and hand with life. These statuettes were apparently designed to “arouse the sexual instinct of the deceased, and to ensure resurrection” Rush (2005:21).

Additionally, Buddhist Monks dipped two prong rods into a dark mixture, made with snake venom, and repeatedly puncture the skin of followers. The people of this faith believe that this ceremony will cast out demons, and keep them from harm, Green, (2003). In the same way, in Thailand, many people believe that tattoos give people special powers. Consequently some people believe that a Tattoo will make them immortal. Animal tattoos are used a great deal. The wearer believes that in receiving an animal tattoo, they will ascertain some of the animal’s powers, Demallo (2007). Moreover, Animal tattoos were usually a source of power, filling the believer with spirits.

In ancient times, some people believed the relationship between inside and outside the skin is the separator between the passions deep within, Ancient tattoos: Theories of heaven and earth (2010). In fact, Rush speaks of a warrior, found with tattoos identified as those used to promote supernatural forces to take hold of the body; during a trance, and to stimulate the body, giving the person magical powers. This warrior exhibited a pattern of dots tattooed on both sides of his spine, Rush (2005).


In modern times, Christian warriors, tattooed crosses on top of their hands to ensure a Christian burial. Although, the Bible speaks of not defiling the temple of the Lord, Spiritual tattoos became an accepted way to show ones purpose, and to ensure resurrection. In today’s society, tattoos are being used more often to show devotion to the God of Christianity. These religious tattoos range from a simple cross, a picture of Jesus, or Mary, and even praying hands. The receivers of these tattoos, wear them almost as amulets, believing they are protected under the watchful eyes of their God, (Religious tattoos and symbols of faith and spirituality, 2010.)

Interestingly, In Japan, Tattoos began to be used; not to increase spirituality or alleviate illness, but as a form of punishment. The first mention of tattooing in Japan, was not until 720 A.D. The Emperor called before him a prisoner who was accused of trying to overthrow the state, and told him, “Instead of punishing you by death, I will sentence you to be tattooed.” A history of Japanese Tattooing (2010). from that point forward, tattoos branded criminals and marked them for their crimes. Several areas in Japan, used different symbols to mark their criminals. in one region, a dog was tattooed on the offender’s forehead. The tattooed person was then no longer accepted by his family, or allowed to attend social events. In the 17th century tattooing was phased out, as the main form of punishment. Average people were beginning to use tattoos to decorate their bodies, and criminals were beginning to cover their tattoos. The emperor, once restored, banned his people from receiving tattoos. Tattoos were outlawed in the 19th century; the emperor made a law that only foreigners were allowed to receive tattoos. He feared that the western world would find his people barbaric, a history of Japanese Tattooing (2010).


In conclusion, tattoos have been around for thousands of years. For centuries, they have been used, to enhance people’s lives. The data has shown, in most cultures, tattoos have been widely accepted as a form of spiritual growth, or medicinal healing. This is even present in today’s society. Once Tattoos were used as a form of punishment, it was then common knowledge that tattoos were only for criminals, a barbaric custom at best. It becomes obvious, when researching the history of tattooing; tattoos are not just rebellious acts of self expression. Throughout history, they have been used to endorse the health and well being of their recipients. For example, the Egyptians have shown a history of using tattoos for protection and to entice the spirits. Additionally, the Buddhist monks have used tattoos to ward off evil spirits. Furthermore, the people in Thailand make use of tattoos to gain spiritual powers. Even today, tattoos are used for these purposes, as illustrated by the gentlemen, in the beginning of this article. He used tattooing to stay spiritually connected to his ancestors. Let's not forget about medical professionals, who use them to improve the health of cancer patients, and to inspire confidence in patients, after suffering from a medical condition.

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    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago

      Dear Lisa,

      Great! I am so glad to hear that. Go for it and do not look back. I will pray for you in your endeavors.

      You have a peaceful night or day.

      Kenneth/your friend for life

    • Lisawilliamsj profile image

      Lisa Williams 3 years ago

      Hi, Kenneth, thank you for your kind reply! I am actually in the process of writing a book, I will let you know when it is finished! Have a great day!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Lisa,

      I truly enjoyed your hub. You have been told this in your life, so I know I am not the first. You have a natural gift for writing. In a word, amazing.

      I wish you would pursue writing a book--non-fiction or fiction.

      I voted up and all of the buttons on this hub because I could feel the creative energy in your words.

      The lay-out was excellent. Presentation superb.

      I left you some fan mail and now I am following you.

      Would you do me one favor and look at one or two of my hubs and become one of my followers?

      I appreciate that so much.


    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ...personally I don't care for tattoos - it was better when only sailors, bikers and bucaneers wore them - lol - now EVERYONE needs a tattoo - it's quite trendy and even a workmate of mine went for a mother and daughter tattoo together .....but I certainly love your hub (subject) and the effort and the time you put into it - nice homework assignment too - you really educated me and in a very entertaining way - in fact I will tattoo this hub to my Facebook page with a direct link back here and thanks for hooking up with me - the pleasure is all mine ..... lake erie time 1:08am Ontario Canada

    • Mentalist acer profile image

      Mentalist acer 7 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

      Self expression is always a bit contrversial in any form. Tatoos as a form of accupunture constructs it's evolution nicely,Great Hub...