Tattoo Blog

Art that adorns the flesh…

The Oldest Art.

November 13th, 2008 by

In my last blog I mentioned that the art of tattooing could very well be as old, or even the oldest human art form. While there is no scientific proof of this you could make an educated guess as to wether or not that is true from a knowledge of human nature, and the oldest proof of primitive tattooing known. Otzi the iceman.

Two German tourists, Helmut and Erika Simon, found Otzi on September 19, 1991. His body remarkably preserved in a glacier proved to be the best example of primitive man found to date. It was estimated that the mummy was from around 3300 BC, approximately 53 centuries ago. He also had over 57 tattoos. Many Egyptian mummies have been found with tattoos as well. Not all of them decorative.

It has often been speculated that most, if not all of the cave paintings are actually a form of sympathetic magic. Drawings made to bring about a certain outcome, such as a successful hunt. I’m not sure why they couldn’t have been just a picture record of events that went on in daily primitive life, but who am I to argue with archeologists? Such is not the case with some of the oldest tattoos on earth. Otzi’s.

Because the tattooing that the iceman had was strategically placed in areas of his body that had some form of affliction. Because of the placement it could be safely speculated that tattooing was used as a form of magic to help, or heal the areas.

If this is true then it could be speculated that the art of tattooing was most often used by primitive man as a form of magic for just as long as man has been around. Unfortunately skin doesn’t last as long as bone, so it is unlikely we will ever know the true extent of it’s range. Still I’d say that’s a fairly safe assumption.

“Many native tribes practiced therapeutic tattooing. The Ojibwa, for instance, tattooed the temples, forehead, and cheeks of those suffering from headaches and toothaches that were believed to be caused by malevolent spirits. Songs and dances that were supposed to exorcise the demons accompanied the tattooing ceremony.”
(Tattoo History: A Source Book, p. 90, by Steve Gilbert)

“In Fiji, Formosa, New Zealand and in certain of the North American Indian tribes, tattooing was regard as a religious ceremony, and performed by priests or priestesses.”
(Art, Sex and Symbol, 1974, p. 64, by Ronald Scutt)

Dr. W. D. Hambly quite possibly one of the most exhaustive researchers into primitive tattooing, and the history of the art felt that it had been around as long as man and was both a religious as well as magical practice as wide spread as human kind it’s self. It’s easy for us to see his point, given that tattooing has been practiced by peoples from ancient Europeans, to New Zealand. When people who could not have possibly, at the time, had any contact between them have practices that similar it would be safe to say the practice is inherent in humans in general.

Since this is obviously the case I see no reason not to believe that the art of tattoo has been around as long as people have. Physical proof, or not, we practice and revere one of the oldest art forms on Earth. If not the oldest.

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