The History Of Tattoos

the-history-of-tattoos-2 History of Tattoos and Modern Tattoo Trends

The first marking of a human body with a tattoo was thousands of years ago. These permanent markings varied a great deal over the years. Some were simple and plain while others were quite elaborate. However, all were personal.

The meanings behind the tattoos have varied a well. Some served as status symbols, some represented a religious belief of a person, some were declarations of love, some served as amulets to ward off evil, and some were ornamentations while others were a form of punishment.

The Earliest Evidence of Tattoos

It is possible that tattoos were in existence as far back as 12,000 BC, however not physical evidence has been found to prove their existence. The earliest evidence of the existence of tattoos in Egypt thousands of years ago included:

  • Tattoos were found to be present on Egyptian female mummies thought to have been as far back in history as c. 2000 B.C.
  • Further evidence was discovered proving the existence of tattoos on women’s bodies and limbs on figurines c. 4000-3500 B.C.
  • Evidence of tattoos on the thighs of female figures were also found to be represented in c.1200 B.C. tomb scenes.
  • Further evidence was found in the form of small bronze tools recognized to have been used in tattooing in the town of Gurob located in northern Egypt in c. 1450 B.C. Perhaps, the strongest evidence of all was the discovery of three female mummies adorned with tattoos previously mentioned to be dated to c. 2000 B.C. Discovered at Greco-Roman burials at Akhmim were female mummies with these same forms of permanent markings or tattoos.

Egyptian Cultural Beliefs of Tattoos

It’s no wonder that the earliest evidence of tattoos were in Egypt. Egypt was a land where people believed that tattoos provided a bridge for a person’s soul to get to the other world at death. Since so many mummies were found to have tattoos on their bodies, it has been assumed that the art of tattooing was used extensively even though the true meanings of the tattoos is not yet known at this time.

According to reports of theSmithsonian Magazine, the status of the women mummies found with tattoos remains a mystery to this day. When one group of mummies was excavated, the men assumed they had “suspicious status” or perhaps were “dancing girls” because of their tattoos. Yet, they were buried directly opposite an area of exclusive and royal burials. Further evidence that they may have had an elite status was the mummy believed to be a priestess named Amunet. Her funerary inscriptions and her being described as “probably a royal concubine” led to the belief that she, indeed, was of elite status.

Amunet’s tattoos were in the form of dots and lines covering her body. Experts believe that these tattoos were believed to act as protection against magical powers during ancient times.

The Tattoo Beginnings

The purpose of tattooing was quite different in China. Around the time of 1000 BC, tattooing was done to bandits and criminals in order to let people know who should be avoided. Tattoos that were symbols of criminals would be drawn on the face so that everyone could easily see a person was a criminal. This marking of criminals continued during the Qing dynasty between 1644 and 1912. However, all tattoos were not those marking criminals. What the meaning of the tattoo as a symbol was depended on the artistic piece and where it was placed.

Between 1720 and 1870, the Japanese also tattooed criminals. Before the tattoos were used to designate criminals, they removed the ears and nose of criminals, but this was discontinued and replaced with the practice of tattooing. However, the Japanese did not place the tattoo on the face of the criminal. Instead, tattoos of rings were placed on the arms of the offenders. A new ring was added for each new offense. The tattoo rings were banned when the Meji government came into power.

The Purposes of Early Tattoos

  • Show Skills: One of the early purposes of tattoos in Borneo was to show the skills a woman possessed. The symbol for the skill a woman possessed would be tattooed on her arm. The meaning of each symbol was known by everyone. Therefore, when a man was looking to marry, he would seek certain symbols. For instance, the symbol indicating weaving skills on a woman’s arm would indicate she was a good choice for marriage.
  • Protection: Tattoo symbols were considered to be a type of talisman since they were believed to have magical powers to ward off evil. For instance, the pentagram or five-pointed star symbolized protection. Tattoos placed on wrists and fingers were believed to have power to ward off illnesses. Tattooing for protection is still popular today.
  • Tribes: Still popular today, tribes have a symbol unique to them. This tattoo is placed on the body of each member of that tripe. For instance, the gang or tribe known as Hells Angels has its own symbol that is tattooed on the body of each member. The tattoo serves as a sign of both respect and pride for the group’s members.

2016 Tattoo Trends


Over the past few years, minimalistic tattoos such as this heart shaped peace sign around the size of a pea have grown in popularity throughout the world and are expected to continue to grow in popularity. Major tattoo artists like Dr. Woo and Bang Bang have been inking tiny designs onto prominent young Hollywood stars. It is expected that many more people will be getting this style of tattoos that has been endorsed by celebrities.

Single Line:

A tattoo that is drawn with one single line such as this crane is a trend of 2016. Tattooer Mo Ganji has perfected this technique and also reports an increased demand for this simplistic type tattoo.

Double Exposure:

Tattoo artists around the world have replicated the double exposure photography into a technique to create tattoos such as this butterfly. This technique is extremely difficult to do, but it can create an unbelievable tattoo when done correctly. It is expected that double exposure tattoos will continue to be a trend in 2016.


A growing style and trend of tattoos is based on the painting style of the famous 20th century artist Pablo Picasso. This vase of flowers is an example of this style created by Peter Aurisch. Cubism is so popular now-a-days, it is currently an in-demand tattoo style. This style of tattoos is created with the use of color blocks to shape fantastic animal and flower portraits. It is expected that cubism tattoos will continue to be a trend in 2016.


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