Thursday, November 18, 2010

The History of Tattoos

Most people assumed tattooing has been around for a very long time, but in 1991, we found evidence proving that the art of ink has been used by humans much longer than many would guess. What happened in 1991? Otzi the Iceman was discovered frozen in a high altitude region on the boarder between Italy and Austria. Good ol. Otzi, dead since 3300 BC, had a whopping 57 tattoos on his body. Otzi's tattoos were very primitive. Many of them consisted of nothing more than a few dots or lines. Hardly a fashion statement, it is suspected that Otzi's tattoos were used as a way to ward off the presence of arthritis.
Ancient tribes in the Middle East have also been discovered to have employed some interesting tattooing practices. The cremated ashes of a loved one were often used to fill a self-inflicted wound. This was done as a sign of respect and as a way of grieving the departed.
Modern tattooing may owe some of its popularity to British Royalty. After visiting less advanced cultures, such as the Tahitians, King George V was inspired by their practice of tattooing so much that he asked one tribe to ink him with a cross. Later, on a trip to Japan, he received a dragon on his forearm. After that, he hopped on his motorcycle and went cruising for chicks. Err. that might have been one of his distant relatives.
While it might seem counterintuitive to think of tattooing as an upper-class activity, it became just that in 19th century Europe. Even Winston Churchill's mother had a tat, a snake around her waist. Inspired by his her, Winston himself sported an anchor tattoo on his forearm for most of his life.
In the Western world, tattoos have evolved from a way of distinguishing oneself as upper class to a fashion identifier or attention grabber. In America, tattoos are rampantly popular. It is estimated that as many as two-thirds of young Americans have at least one tattoo. Ironically, this popularity was fueled significantly by World War II. Many American soldiers were tattooed while touring Europe, which was a more popular continent for tattoos at the time. When they returned home with freshly inked skin, the practice made its way into mainstream culture.
Tattooing really spiked in popularity during the 1960s. The hippie generation of free-spirit dope-smoking youth brought tattoos front and center with what was deemed "cool" at the time.
Criminal and gang subculture have also embraced tattoos. Because of this, tattooing could not be more distant from its once "high class" reputation of yesteryear. Many hold negative associations towards tattoos due to their use as a way of identifying one's self as a member of a gang or prison inmate.
The negative implications that gang members bring to the tattoo world are at least partially offset by a very benign form of tattooing, temporary tattoos. These became popular among grade-schoolers in the 1990s since they provide the impact of a normal tattoo without causing permanent damage to the skin. Most of these tattoos are made with nothing more than glue and pigments extracted from vegetation. Temporary tattoos are not held in a respectable light by tattoo enthusiasts. It would not be wise to walk into a parlor and ask the artist if they have any temporary tattoos.

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