Tattoos are awesome. In fact, body art is so awesome that it has been practiced for thousands of years. The art of tattooing has had many different meanings throughout history. In some ancient cultures, it was seen as a sign of achieving manhood. In others, tattoos represented a rebellion against the status quo.

Tattoos Ancient Origins

Archeologists continue to discover older and more significant tattoos in their searches to unearth the treasures of the past. One of the oldest examples of body art was found on Ă–tzi the Iceman in the Alps. This unique discovery is over 12,000 years old and places the art of tattooing in the region around 5000 BC. Tattoo tools were also discovered alongside the mummy.


Both Germanic and Celtic tribes used tattoos to celebrate accomplishments such as victories in battle. The Vikings would also use tattoos extensively. There are many ancient texts referring to the way these warriors bodies would be covered in ink. The Vikings used wood ash to darken the skin in those times.

Viking Tattoos

Viking Tattoos


Ancient Egyptians used tattoos for many different reasons. They believed tattoos had special healing powers and there are many instances where a tattoo was prescribed as a cure for certain ailments. One of the earliest Egyptian mummies found with Tattoos were the Gebelein Man mummies.

These 5000-year-old mummies were found with a wide variety of tattoos still on their skin. Six mummies were found in total. These mummies had tattoos of bulls, sheep, and other patterns on their bodies. Archeologists consider these mummies to be the earliest example of figurative tattoos.

Scientists have concluded that these tattoos were meant to symbolize vitality in men, many of whom had the bull tattoo. In women, the sheep tattoo is still being debated with most scholars agreeing that it meant the woman held some high position in the Egyptian church.

Oriental Tattoos

In China the art if tattooing is called Ci Shen. The term means to puncture the body. While movies suggest that the Chinese culture embraced tattoos, the opposite is actually the case. Tattoos were seen as a defamation of the body and were mostly worn by outlaws and Yakuza.

There are some exceptions to this. In the ancient story of General Yueh Fei, he is betrayed by his fellow soldier and defeated in battle. The defeat crushed the general and he returned home. Upon his arrival, his mother reminded him that she had tattooed four symbols on his back. These symbols roughly translate to “serve his country with ultimate loyalty.”

Nefarious Tattoos in History

History is also full of examples of tattoos being used to mark certain undesirables in society. Chinese history tattoos were used to mark criminals. Sever offenders would be forced to get their face tattooed before being exiled. Also, Germany used tattoos during WWII to mark concentration camp victims.

The Future of Tattoos

The journey from ancient tattoos to today’s modern pieces of art has been extensive. Nowadays anyone can get a tattoo without all the stigma that was once associated with this behavior. The future will see even more body art as the ink, equipment, and even robotics improve the tattoo experience in the coming years. Now that you understand the history of tattoos you are ready to start learning on how to find the perfect tattoo artist.

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