Table of contents for Tattoo history
Nobody knows, of course, when and where tattooing got its start. I think it’s reasonable to assume that some cave dweller or other got poked with a burnt stick, and found that afterwards the black mark left in the skin by the ashes didn’t go away.
It’s pretty clear that human ancestors liked to decorate themselves, and it would be a lot easier to poke a few burnt, sharpened sticks into your skin than to make other kinds of nonpermanent adornment. I can’t imagine what it would have been like to try to make a hole in a shell, much less the incredible amount of work it would have taken to make beads.
Magical, medicinal markings
The “iceman,” the oldest human body ever found, has tattoos–dots and lines in various places on his skin. Investigation has shown that those dots and lines are over places where he had problems with his bones. Whether the tattoos were thought to be medicinal in their own right, or just marked the places where what passed for a “physician” in those days to concentrate his or her treatment, of course, is unknown.
Many other more recent ancient human bodies have tattooed marks of various kinds. Some have elaborate designs, some just simple dots or chevrons. It is clear that permanent marks on the skin were significant and important in the ancient world. Long before people had written languages, they had meaningful symbols, and they had the desire to mark themselves in meaningful ways. Paint would wash off. Tattoos wouldn’t.
Is the urge to decorate our bodies part of our ancient heritage? Something that no overlay of more recent belief systems can overrule? Are more recent body modifications like circumcision simply another manifestation of our biology rather than the theology they ostensibly represent?
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