The History of Tattoos and Piercings Amanda Ward Axia College University of Phoenix Tattoos and Piercings are two forms of body art that have been practiced throughout history; they are ways of expressing ones independence or for religiousor cultural reasons. Tattoos and body piercing have had important meaning throughout history. Depending on the observer’s personal history and experience, their meanings can differ from person to person, or from group to group. To begin with, there is evidence to show that tattoos and body piercing have been used as early as 3300 B. C.
The oldest mummy found bearing tattoos is a mummified iceman named “Otzi” from that time. Otzi bears 57 tattoos which include a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines 15 centimeters long above the kidneys, and small parallel lines along the lumbar, ankles, and legs. Otzi also had an ear piercing 7-11 mm in diameter. There have been Egyptian and Nubian mummies found with tattoos that date to about 2000 BC. The Romans are said to have started the practice of piercings when the soldiers would pierce their nipples to show bravery and to hold their cloaks down.
Many historic tribes all over the world have used both tattoos and body piercings to indicate public facts about themselves. Some of these reasons could be wealth, security, religion, and status within the group. For example, in the Berber and Beja tribes of Africa, a husband would give his wife a nose ring at their marriage. This ring denotes the wealth of the family. On the other hand, the ring becomes security to the woman if she gets divorced. The Samoan tribe was discovered by missionaries in 1722. The missionaries found that tattooing was a common practice among the tribe.
In fact, a boy would have to get tattoos before he was allowed to marry, or speak in the presence of grown men. The Samoans would tattoo the nose of a member who had committed a serious crime, which was considered equal to having theirear cut off. The people of the Ato, which is one of the political divisions of the Bontoc village in the Philippines, were only allowed to get a tattoo if they had taken a head. In other tribes in neighboring Borneo and New Guinea, tattooing was considered a very religious experience. They believed that the flowing blood attracted spirits that would protect or destroy a village.
Aztec and Mayan priests and shamans pierced their tongues because they believed it would help them communicate better with their gods. The Aztec and Mayan tribes also carried out tongue piercing which was part of a blood ritual. Further north in the Inuit community, the males would get a small cross tattooed on their cheeks, or shoulders for every whale they would kill (thus showing their bravery). The women of the Netsilik group of the Inuit’s would get tattoos because they believed it would gain them entry into the other world when they died.
Another interesting fact is that the homosexual males of the Inuit’s had their chins tattooed. They were also required to wear women’s clothing and perform women’s chores. Some tribes in Australia and New Guinea had a custom of the men piercing their septum to give the man a fierce savage look. In more modern times, King Harold II of England also had numerous tattoos that were used to identify his body after his death in battle in 1066. Thomas Edison, famous inventor, had a tattoo of five dots that resembled the face of dice tattooed on his forearm. Still popular in India, nose rings,and nose studs are usually worn in the left nostril.
This is said to be associated with the female reproductive system and make childbirth easier. This tradition began in the 16th century and brought from the Middle East. On the darker side, tattoos were also used by the Nazis in prison camps. During the holocaust, the Nazis at Auschwitz Concentration Camp used tattooing as a means of identifying Prisoners. Prisoners were issued a serial number when they arrived at the camp. This usually consisted of both a number and a category. The reason the Nazis started tattooing the serial numbers on the Prisoners werefor identification.
If their clothing became separated from the prisoner, there was little or no means of ever identifying them. Survivors and others have come to recognize these tattoos as a symbol of their race being dehumanized. In our own justice system, prisoners have also used tattoos as a means of identifying themselves to others. This practice usually centers on hate groups and gangs. For example, white supremacy groups use tattoos of swastikas, iron crosses, series of numbers and/or symbols, and organization names to show affiliation with its respective organization and put fear into others and to intimidate others.
Gangs tattoo symbols, tear drops and name of gang in Old English writing to show affiliation and instill fear. Tattoos in prison also have meanings of basic life such as chains, time served (usually as a clock), family waiting on outside, and death of loved one. Most prison tattoos have important meaning to the recipient of the tattoo. Prisoners that receive tattoos in prison often have pictures of the tattoos taken and sent to other law enforcement agencies. This can be used almost like a fingerprint. These tattoos can be used to identify the individuals in future crimes or run through N. C.
I. C. for anything as simple as a traffic stop up to a severe crime. In fact, most organizational tattoos have to be earned and are status symbols to others in the affiliation. Body piercing is not allowed or tolerated in the prison system and therefore, bear no meaning. When prisoners are released and back in society, police officers, employers, and common people judge, and categorize these people because of the tattoos they have received. Today, tattoos and body piercings are done with some similar meanings. People get tattoos to show their religion, love, personality, and for decoration.
Remaining tribes still get these art forms for the same reasons their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Body piercings in other countries and cultures still bear some religious and symbolic meaning. However, many of body piercings are purely for decoration purposes in the United States. Tattoos among the majority of society still have exceptional meaning to the bearer of the tattoo. Families get names, dates of birth, footprints, and portraits of spouses and children tattooed as a show of pride and love. The most common of all piercings is by far the ear, as has been throughout history.
Even though it may not be socially accepted, people are going to continue to get tattoo and/or piercing. While other members of society pass judgment on those who have them. Here is a quote of a soldier and what the meaning of his tattoos means to him. “I am in the United States Army, an MP who searched towns and villages for Al Quida and insurgents. I was in Iraq for 1 year. I have a red and black nautical star on my wrist. The reason I got it was because when I was out there, I felt it was a guide to guide me home to my family safely.
I choose it so that it would remind me that I am going to make it to see my son grow up. I am not gay, it doesn’t matter what you believe it represents, and it means something different for everyone. Out in the desert, I would look up at the stars and think about home. So anyone can think what they want to, that is what it means to me. ” In conclusion the practice of tattooing and body piercing stems a long way back in our history. The meanings of tattoos and body piercing throughout history have had both positive and negative connotations. Depending on the bserver’s personal history and experience in life, their meanings can differ from person to person, or from group to group. Whether the practice of permanently altering one’s body in such a way is socially accepted in today’s world or not, we should realize that tattoo, and body piercings will most likely continue to be used throughout the world. Individuals will continue to put their own “stamps” on their body. References Britannica (2009). Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved February 7, 2009, from http://www. britannica. com/EBchecked/topic/584263/tattoo Body piercing.
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