Medical, religious & cultural tattoos > Info Center > The History of Body Art and Modification

The History of Body Art and Modification

The existence of body art, AKA tattoos, is not one that has come to the fore in recent times. Quite to the contrary the actual existence of the process of tattooing and body art, though various in its’ origins, can be traced back for several millenniums. The word itself has many supposed origins, the most credible ones being that of the Chinese term, “Ta” which translates into “To strike something” and, more likely, that of the word “Tatau” which means “to Mark.”

The oldest definite example of body art came to surface recently upon a mountaintop between Italy and Austria, as in late 1991 the frozen remains of a five thousand year old male was found. This Bronze Age corpse was marked from the waist down with almost 60 tattoos. However, this particular region could not lay claim on the only evidence of ancient body art.

In 1948 in a region between China and Russia a Russian Archaeologist by the name of Sergei Rudenko located the tattoo covered mummified remains of several bodies during a dig in the Altai Mountains of Siberia. These remains dated back to 24000 years ago.

In the latter 1800’s Egypt, not to ever be left out of the archaeological race, reported the findings of a group of archaeologists. The one mummy of notoriety was that of Amunet, an Egyptian priestess. This corpse dated back between the times of 1994 BC and 2160 BC. The priestess had tattoo designs covering her body.
The list goes on and on as we research one dynasty after another, country after country. To actually be able to put a particular date on the creation of the practice of body art is completely and utterly impossible. There is evidence of this practice found in the history of America, South America, Samoa, Japan, Polynesia, and even Hawaii. The list is endless.

History also records several different purposes for body art, beyond the label of art. Some societies used it for medical purposes, some spiritual, and some as a statement of hierarchy. Today, particularly in the United States, it is an art form. Nevertheless, we can always take great pleasure in looking back on the various purposes and examples of this art and revel in the rich history that is to be found therein. Even those that utilized the Tattoo for more than merely an art form will go down in history as works of art themselves.

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