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  • Writer's pictureScott Glazier

Tattoos in the Neolithic Era

Hello Speakeasy readers, from the rainy streets of Los Angeles its Peter Hernandez back again with another interesting topic. Ancient tattooing as a practice can be traced 5,000 years back to the Neolithic era, where a well-preserved mummy now named Ötzi was discovered.

The body of Ötzi, who is also known as Iceman, was found with an approximate total of 57 markings, including some on the back of the left knee. The Neolithic mummy dates back to the 4th millennium BC. The tattoos are said to have been made by rubbing coal into incisions in the skin. Although the reason for the markings cannot be determined, they were carbon tattoos in the shape of lines and dots.

In ancient Egypt, the tattoos were mostly worn by women, and they were used to represent religious devotion, class, and both as a way of healing as well as a form of punishment.

The position in which the tattoos were made was important; decorations around the fingers and wrists were said to ward off evil spirits and diseases.

Similarly, the Mummy of Amunet from ancient Egypt was also found with tattoos on him. Apart from the ancient Egyptian tattoos, the inhabitants of Central America and Mexico also had Aztec tattoos, which were worn by ancient Aztec people.

The tattoos of the Aztec people were made as part of rituals for the purpose of honoring a chosen god. The tattoos were also used for the purpose of differentiating tribes as well as displaying the prowess of a warrior. The people of the Philippines also used tattooing as a mark of rank and accomplishment.

Despite regions such as those occupied by Aztec people and those with people of the Philippines viewing tattoos as a mark of prowess and pride, others, like the Ancient Chinese and some parts of Egypt, saw the practice as barbaric. In China, tattooing was used to humiliate and shame convicted criminals by marking their faces with the symbol of the word "prisoner". However, as times changed, the use and meaning of tattoos started to change in Chinese culture. For instance, Yue Fei, a famous Chinese general, is said to have had "Repay the Country with Pure Loyalty" tattooed on his back by his mother.

The ancient Chinese, however, were not the only ones who viewed tattooing as barbaric. In Europe, which was encompassed by Christianity, tattooing was considered barbaric. However, the practice did not go into extinction, and instead, the oceanic voyagers would often bring home tattooed natives from the places they visited. The word tattoo is said to have been introduced to the English language and other languages by Captain James Cook after making observations on the modifications made to indigenous bodies.

Similarly, in America and in the Old World, tattooing was made popular by sailors who used the body marking as a way of self-expression and also a way of identification.

Tattooing continued to grow popular by the 19th century, although it was only used by commoners and crowned heads. Despite the practice being associated with the lower classes in the 20th century, tattooing soon became mainstream in the western world, where in today's tattoo culture it is done by both males and females and across all economic classes. In 2023, tattoo tattoo parlors will be found everywhere where the practice has been elevated to an art form done professionally and with great skill. Furthermore, tattoo culture in 2023 is not done as a form of punishment or with any other universal meaning, but as a form of remembrance of things a person holds dear. Tattooing is part of the human heritage and has a rich history that can be traced back to the B.C. era. The attitude associated with tattooing has improved to the point where it is not seen as barbaric anymore but as a form of artistic expression. People no longer hide or fear tattoos, as people have taken to using them for identification and to make statements. Additionally, tattoos are used today for fashion, and those who do want tattoos do it because they want to be different and not because it is barbaric, as the ancient people believed. A journalist for the Paris Exhibition told the Guardian in 2017 that tattooing is "an art movement that's developing and changing all the time."

The tattoo culture in modern society has changed in that instead of using wooden and bronze tools to create the designs like in ancient times, the tattoo artists today use finely crafted needles. More so, the soot and carbon substances used in ancient times have been replaced with specialized inks that create various pigments. The modern tattoos are also said to last longer and be less painful. The safety measures taken to tattoo a person have changed as well; now the tools are sterilized and the practice is done in a controlled environment. This makes it impossible for infections to fester, unlike in ancient times. in the future i would like to explore this topic further and maybe flesh out specific time periods and the body modifications that define them. til next week my fellow apes.


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