On the Couch
with Lisa LaPorta
The History Of Tattooing
People have been decorating their bodies for thousands of years. The earliest discovery of tattooing was in 1991, when a group of archaeologist found a mummified frozen body that was discovered on a mountain between Austria and Italy. The iceman, which dated back 3300 B.C., had 57 tattoos across his whole body corresponding to areas of strain, which may have been applied to alleviate joint pain, and were considered therapeutic. The word tattoo is said to have two major derivations from the Polynesian word “ta” which means to strike something, and the Tahitian word “tatau” which means “to mark something.” During that time, sharp chisels or several needles were tied together, were used to cut the designs into the skin, then a soot-based pigment would be tapped into the open wounds, which then healed over to seal in the design.
Among the Greeks and Romans the use of tattoos seemed to have been largely used as a mark of social status, belonging either to a religious group, an owner in the case of slaves, or even to mark them as criminals. When the Macedonian Greek monarchs ruled Egypt, the Pharaoh himself, Ptolemy IV, was said to have been tattooed with ivy leaves to symbolize his devotion to Dionysus, The Greek god of wine. The Greek writer Herodotus c. 450 B.C. stated that amongst the Scythians and Thracians, “Tattoos were a mark of nobility, and not to have them was testimony of low birth.” Egyptians spread the practice of tattooing throughout the entire world; by 2000 B.C the art had stretched to Southeast Asia and other parts of the world such as Indonesia, India, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Native Americans, and the Western Culture.
The first permanent tattoo shop in New York City was set up in 1846, and began a tradition by tattooing military service men from the civil war. The first electric tattooing machine was invented in 1891. In 1932 after the kidnapping of a baby, parents had their children tattooed, and then when the first social security cards were issued in 1936, some people had their social security numbers tattooed on them.
During World War II, the practice of tattooing was also used by the Nazis, who tattooed Jewish people during the Holocaust. In the 1950’s and 60’s tattoos were linked with bikers (motorcycle gangs), outlaw groups, mafia, and people with a rebellious influence. Tattooing in the 1970’s was strongly influenced by the social changes in societies civil rights, black power movement, women’s liberation, peace signs, yin/yangs, leaves, flowers etc. Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s teenagers that grew up in the 70’s began to define tattooing as an art, and a freedom of self expression, because of this, tattoos are valued and viewed differently in today’s society.
The development of new tattoo styles continued to influence tattoo art today in the 21st century. Tattoos started becoming embraced by the middle class, and people started getting tattoos that complimented the body, rather than marking purposes. Over the years, tattoos have enjoyed great popularity in the western culture. Tattooing has become a 1.65 billion dollar industry; 45 million Americans have at least 1 tattoo, 24% between the ages of 18-50. As technology advances new tattoo equipment is being made to make the process less painful. Wherever we look... known people are sporting tattoos of all designs. They're seen on models, athletes, in the movies, commercial advertisements, and are even becoming accepted by people in the corporate world. The United States today has been influenced by tattooing from all parts of the world, with the ever changing trends and fashion statements. Tattoos today have evolved; it has become a lifestyle, a way of life, and freedom of expression of who we are as individuals.
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