for tattooed people, and those who want to be

Body art and human society


I was watching the “Ancient Ink” show (for the third time) the other day, and musing about how we humans seem eternally determined to decorate ourselves permanently.

Some of the methods ancient people used to decorate their bodies were incredibly painful (for that matter, some of the methods modern people use to decorate their bodies must hurt just as much). Cutting the skin and rubbing ashes into it, sewing lines under the skin with sinew coated with soot, branding, pounding pigment into the skin… yes, people have to be very determined and very brave.

And yet there’s evidence that our ancestors did it on a regular basis. We don’t know for sure why, or whether the designs were purely decorative, ceremonial or or medicinal purposes. We don’t know why paint, beads, feathers, etc were not enough and why a permanent mark was the only possible choice. Speaking as someone who wanted a tattoo for 30 years before actually getting one, I can say that the urge to get these permanent decorations can be both strong and lasting.

People in the modern world get tattoos to decorate, to acknowledge life milestones, to show membership in a group, for protection and to demonstrate our spiritual beliefs. We don’t want temporary decorations–we want something that will for all intents and purposes last forever.

Watching the host of “Ancient Ink” and the other people in the documentary go through the most painful processes to pay homage to human tradition gave me the sense that as the old saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Author: infmom

I got my first tattoo when I was 46. I hope the people who read this blog don't have to wait that long. I love talking about body art.


  1. This is a great show and I was so surprised that it did go back so far in history. I’m with you – it took 34 years for me to do it and I love it. I truly think it is the ultimate form of self-expression, and despite the pain, self-love. Women (and men for that matter) decorate themselves with all sorts of things temporarily, so why not permanently? I can’t help but to think the ancestor of ours whose mummified, tattooed arm was being examined on the program had such intricate work done purely for ceremonial/medicinal purposes. I’m sure that definitely played a part, but I wonder what that person thought about every time he/she looked down at their arm – if it brought a smile to their face, as mine does. We humans are programmed to enjoy beauty.

    • When I saw that mummified arm, I was in awe of what that person had to go through to have such an elaborately beautiful design. It must have had great meaning, to make enduring the process worth while.

      We multicolored people definitely understand that the pain of the procedure is canceled out by the beauty of the results. 🙂

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