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Where did tattoos come from?

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Quick Answer

According to the Smithsonian, tattoos have been used by human beings for thousands of years. The earliest-known examples come from Ancient Egyptian mummies that date back to 2000 B.C., but with the discovery of tattoos on the Iceman, it is clear that tattoos were around even before the Egyptians.

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The tattoo is a body modification that requires poking bits of ink into the dermis layer of the skin, changing the pigment of the skin. Tattoos existed in cultures in South America around 6000 B.C. Certain tools discovered by archaeologists in Peru may actually be tattoo tools used 60,000 years ago. The Ainu people in Japan, along with some Austro-Asiatic cultures, also used tattoos on their faces and bodies.

The role of tattoos in ancient Egypt is uncertain. However, some archaeologists believe that tattoos represented status or occupation, especially in women. Some women may have received a tattoo because they were of dubious status or had a sexually transmitted disease. Others believe that the tattoos served as a permanent amulet in a time where birth and pregnancy were very difficult. The amulets may have calmed the woman as she believed they would protect her and her baby from disease or death.

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