History of decorating the body

The oldest archeological traces found that indicate tattooing are about 12000 years old.

Unlike architecture, sculpture and other forms of expression, it is very hard to put a date on tattooing, as it leaves little archeological findings. Tattoos live and die with those who wear them, while tattooing tools, due to their miniature sizes and degradability are seldom found and correctly recognized in their original purpose. Also, official archeology often refuses to accept that the ornamental decorations on the surface of statues in prehistoric cultures actually represent tattoos. The reason for such a behavior is probably the fact that most of the respectable archeologists grow up in mainly provincial cultures that are ashamed of their barbaric roots, hence are often ignoring them. As a consequence, the popular misconception is that tattooing is coming from wild tribes from exotic locations covered with jungles. The fact is that tattooing was flourishing at times of our pre-Christian great grandfathers, together with many other customs detested by the modern civilized world. Charles Darwin wrote long time ago: ''There is not a nation on this planet that does not know this phenomenon''.
The oldest found archeological traces that point to tattooing are approximately 12 000 years old. The question is about statuettes with tattoo images, which we mentioned earlier. The first undisputable evidence is an ice mummy with preserved tattoos, called ''OTZI'' found in the Alps between Austria and Italy, about 5,400 years old. After that one, there is a line of younger ice mummies, found in the tombs of Russian prairies, then Egyptian tattooed mummies and descriptions by Greek, Roman and Egyptian chronicle writers. The beginning of tattooing is impossible to determine, as it developed independently and in every distant corner of the planet. Recently, many “scientific” works have been written, describing tattooing as something connected exclusively with affiliation to certain tribal, religious or sub-cultural groups. At the same time, it is often implied that it is a consequence of deviant, amoral and asocial behavior, or even psychological instability. Experts that represent these points of view are basing their theories on earlier works of psychiatrists in the service of Europe’s power forces, and those theories are then used to justify their colonial politics. They often presented natives in colonies as mentally retarded savages who are not capable to run their own country, hence they need mentally superior Europeans to save them and guard them. Free-minded dissidents who dared to look and think differently from the obedient majority have also been, in the service of totalitarian politics, declared dangerous lunatics and eccentrics, so they could be more easily locked up and shut up. Interesting is also the fact that the research that support these thesis had been conducted in jails and mental hospitals of the 19th century, so it is rather clear that all of examinees were either lunatics, or criminals. Each mentioning of tattoos, as a mark of higher social rank, nobility or different achievements has been systematically emitted and covered up, causing thus misconceptions we have even today. Traditional tattooing can be divided in many groups:

PATRICIAN TATTOOS: In all cultures, nobility had, besides the best of arms, equipment, clothing, food and living quarters, owned also the best and the most expensive tattoos, usually the work of skillful, well paid masters. There were often certain symbols reserved exclusively for noblemen, marking their rank and origin. The history marks many examples of tattooing heraldic symbols on members of European royal and patrician families, as well as on members of tribal aristocracy of Northern America, Asia, Africa and Oceania (the Pacific Region).

IDENTIFICATION TATTOOS: Uncountable variations of these tattoos marked the belonging to the tribe, religion, region, profession or ideology. Within each regional style there was also an encrypted hierarchy symbol system, that showed, as well as patrician tattoos, the status of the person carrying them.

TATTOOS AS A MARK OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Usually an integral part of the regional styles, these tattoos were reserved for community members who propounded themselves by having extraordinary achievements in the war, or in some respected craft, or in the medicine. Also, the tattoos, like stamps in the passport, proved far away travels or pilgrimages. The authenticity of these marks was protected by outspread belief that, by tattooing the mark on someone who did not deserve it, one calls upon the person being tattooed, or upon the person doing the tattooing evil luck, a curse or a disease. Such tribal superstitions are not without a meaning, as the imposter would get hurt unless he could prove that he was a warrior or a master he said he was.

THERAPEUTIC TATTOOING: : The history is full of examples of tattooing with the purpose of healing or preventing illnesses. Many mummies were found with, what seamed senseless dots and crosses. With further examination traces of arthritis and other various diseases were found under tattoos. It is a known fact that large number of diseases that are not contagious, hereditary or that appeared as a consequence of some injury, are actually caused by something in human psyche, and could, therefore, be treated with different types of placebo. Thus, tattooing found its place in the traditional medicine of many nations, but unlike the other shaman rituals, tattooing enforces the immune system of the body because it produces anti-bodies during the period of healing the tattooed spot, and later, during the whole life, the level of anti-bodies is elevated because of the tattooing ink that is located under the skin.

RITUAL TATTOOING: In all cultures there are certain initiation rituals that are often followed by tattooing. Whether it is about a pre-historic tribe, a today’s sports’ fan group or some other closed circle of people, an individual, by its readiness to undertake a discomforting process of making the indelible mark of belonging, proves that he or she is ready to make a strong stand and take the consequences such a stand causes. Another form of the ritual tattooing is talisman tattooing, that, supposedly, brings strength, courage, fortune, wealth and similar, and protect against misfortune, jinx and similar. Such tattoos boost the confidence in actions we would not take otherwise, due to fear or prejudice.

DECORATIVE TATTOOING: : All the above mentioned forms of tattooing lose their original meanings with time and become a part of customs of different cultures, so that designs are continued to be tattooed as a decoration, even when the function and meaning has been completely forgotten. Most of the styles of today’s tattooing, although based on old traditions, serve purely as a decoration to their bearers.

PUNITIVE TATTOOING: The most often mentioned by those opposing tattooing, this kind of tattooing was practiced to mark the felons, adulterers, slaves, conquered rivals or the excommunicated ones. For example, people from ancient Athens used to tattoo prisoners of war with the sign of the owl, which was the symbol of Athens. Greeks used to tattoo the slave on the face, marking thus his offences like laziness or gluttony, while in the medieval Japan they used to tattoo petty criminals on the face and under elbow with the sign of the crime they have committed, in order to punish them more severely should they be apprehended again. The latest example of the punitive tattooing are well known numbers from below the elbow of prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, from the World War II.

The above presented types of the traditional tattooing remained, with smaller variations in the technique itself, unchanged throughout history. Almost all traditional tattoos are, as a rule, black, tattooed by colors based on the grime that was, in different solutions, inserted under skin using one or multiple needles. Motives are usually abstract ornaments or ornamental animal and floral forms, expressed by lines and filled-in spaces. Needles were inserted under the skin directly by hand, or they were mounted on the wooden carrier, which was then hit upon with another wooden bat. Some of these traditions survived even today, in places protected from the invasion of the imperialism and globalization, for example in Bosnia, secluded parts of the former Soviet Union, Northern Africa, Borneo, New Zealand and many other Pacific Islands. In places like Hawaii and the French Polynesia, where tattooing was uprooted, there is a repeated awakening of this custom in its original form. Traditional ethnic motives and techniques are becoming more and more popular among the westerners as well, who are often the descendants of those who colonized and tried with all forces to root out this craft. As it seems, modern tattooing brought up the interest for the dying traditions from which it derived, giving them thus the new strength. Modern and traditional tattooing experiences today unremembered flourishing, without a visible end in the future.
In this introduction in the ancient history of tattooing, I have, on purpose, avoided the usual giving of examples like who, when, where and why got a tattoo, as the answer to that is everybody, everywhere and always, from all possible and impossible reasons. My intention was to touch the true core of the principles that are universal in all old tattoo cultures, so that the reader, fascinated with any separate tradition, can filter the further data he finds from the bias approach of the writer and see them in their reality.

Ice mummy OTZI – proving that tattoos existed in Europe, 5400 years ago.
The first undisputable evidence regarding the age of tattooing is an ice mummy with preserved tattoos, called ''OTZI'' found in the Alps between Austria and Italy, about 5400 years old.
Mnogi smatraju da su otoci tihog oceana kolijevka tetoviranja.
The popular misconception is that tattooing comes from wild tribes, living in exotic locations covered in jungle. The fact is that tattooing was flourishing even with our pre-Christian great grandfathers, together with many other customs despised by the modern civilized world. Charles Darwin wrote long time ago ''There’s not a nation in this world that does not know for this phenomenon.''.
Tattoo history in Europe. Drawings from Central Bosnia.
The real truth is that tattooing and piercing have been and remained a part of the tradition of people throughout the entire world. On the upper photographs we can see the historic scenes of the tattooing process and tattooed girls from the Zenica area, Bosnia and Herzegovina.