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 the history 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.

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 of the 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.

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.

Portfolio

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Tattoos are designs on the skin made with needles and colored ink…



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Tattoos and piercings: Play it smart with body art



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Tattoos and piercings: Play it smart with body art



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Tattoos are designs on the skin made with needles and colored ink…



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Tattoos are designs on the skin made with needles and colored ink…



100 Years of Beauty

Functional tattoos are used primarily for a purpose other than aesthetics…



Japan tattoo – Horitsuki

Functional tattoos are used primarily for a purpose other than aesthetics…



The most famous artists

Mirum est notare quam littera gothica, quam nunc.



Who made the tattoos?

Although we have no explicit written evidence in the case of ancient Egypt, it may well be that the older women of a community would create the tattoos for the younger women, as happened in 19th-century Egypt and happens in some parts of the world today.

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