The History of Our Relationship with Tattoos

The History of Our Relationship with Tattoos

Historic Sailer Tattooist

The oldest record of tattooed human is the Iceman (nothing to do with Top Gun).  Iceman or Otzi was discovered in 1991 on the Italian & Austrian border.  Thought to have lived between 3350 & 3105BC.

There is evidence of tattoos being used to identify slaves & criminals in various regions of the world.  There is evidence that Egypt did use tattooing as decorative body art on women at least 2000BC. 

The tradition of giving and receiving tattoos by hand in Samoa has been practiced for more than two thousand years. The techniques and tools used for this traditional practice have hardly changed during this time either. The skill is taught and passed down from father to son. 

TATTOO (the word as we know it) referring to body art comes from Polynesian languages such as Tahitian, Samoan or Marquesan. It’s most likely connected to the words tatau or tatu, meaning “mark or puncture on the skin.  Many historians believe that Captain James Cook first introduced these words into the English language in the mid-18th century. In 1768, Cook set off for his first expedition to the South Pacific on the HMS Endeavour. When the ship arrived in Tahiti, Cook was entranced with the beauty of the island and its people — and he was struck by the unique, vibrant body art that adorned their skin.

Tattooing has been used throughout time to disguise medical procedures or conditions.

Tattoos were not very common or socially acceptable until the mid 20th century. Up until this time, they were reserved for a small population, mainly those in the entertainment industry.

One of the most famous tattooed people from the 1800s was John O’Reilly. His elaborate and complete body art made him a popular feature in dime museums and the circus, where his tattoos attracted and amazed the audience.

The story of John O’Reilly interested me in research for this article, my brother’s name is John O’Reilly and he inked up for the first time in October 2022 nearing 50 years of age.  I digress.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of tattoos were found on circus performers or sailors. Tattoos were used to tell someone’s personal story, as well as their professions.

Eyebrow Tattooing

1920s cosmetic tattoos became popular among women.  100 years later cosmetic tattooing is again popular in the name of vanity.  In 2022 tattooing of eyebrows, in particular, is common.

1930s Tattoos were frowned upon.   People were tattooing their social security numbers on themselves so they did not lose them!  Not very sexy.

1940s Colour was introduced.  Both men and women choose to get patriotic tattoos as the world suffered WW2.

1950s Tattoos became a reflection of masculinity.  Popular amongst men that liked to be labelled a “bad boy”.

1960s saw celebrities, particularly musicians, donning a tattoo.  The classic skull became popular especially amongst bikers.

1970s was the era of love trust and pixie dust – peace themed tattoos became popular.  Tattooing for expression helped with ink being more accepted.

1980s the decade of rebellion, tattoos became bigger and brighter.

1990s Tattoos became a little controversial as tribal designs & Asian letters were popular in the west.

2000s the beginning of the 21st century saw the lower back tattoo, called the “tramp stamp”.

2010s Previously tattoos were kept to areas of the body that could be covered, particularly at work.

2022 men & women, of all ages, from all walks of life, display their tattoos on every part of their bodies, at work & play.

You suffered the pain, took the time and spent the dollars to get your ink, take care of it with Rogue Nation Tattoo Butter 

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