When Did Tattoos Begin?


Quick Answer

The first known cosmetic tattoo was discovered on a mummy dating back to 6,000 B.C. in South America. The tattoo was of a mustache on a woman.

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Full Answer

In 1991, scientists discovered that a 5,300-year-old corpse had tattoos corresponding to acupuncture points. They opined that the tattoos were evidence of repeated applications of acupuncture to relieve his arthritis. Clay figurines painted to illustrate tattooing have been found in Japan. These date back to 3,000 B.C. Egyptian priestesses from 2160 to 1994 B.C. were tattooed with geometric patterns to signify their status. Germanic, Celtic and other European tribes from the Roman times were known for being heavily tattooed. In fact, the Picts were tattooed and scarified with pigment from dark blue woad plants. Russian archaeologist Sergei Rudenko discovered 2,400-year-old mummies covered in tattoos of indigenous and mythological animals.

Polynesians have a long history of tattooing. In Samoa, tattoo artists have been applying ink by hand for 2,000 years. They use a tattoo comb made of sharpened boar teeth fastened to part of a turtle shell. They used this comb to tap out elaborate tattoo designs. High-born Samoan men were typically tattooed from mid-torso to the knees. The process took three months to undertake and several more for healing. The Maori of New Zealand chiseled tattoos into the skin, with full-face tattooing communicating status and tribal affiliations.

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