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Tattoos Around The World

Oetzi, the Iceman found in the Swiss-Italian Alps, was a traveller. No-one lived up there in those freezing conditions, so he must have been going from one place to another. He was a traveller, possibly an outcast. He lived 5,300 years ago and he had 53 tattoos. The marks are still clearly visible on his parchment-like skin. it has been suggested that the purpose of some of the tattoos was to mark pressure points for acupuncture or other medicinal purposes.

Tattoos Around The World

The Celts of Europe and particularly those of Britain were renowned for their use of bodily and facial tattoos. Briton actually means 'people of the designs' and the Scottish Picts were the 'painted people'. The British are still the most tattooed dragon tattoosindividuals in Europe. How's that for tradition living on throughout history?

Tattooing is an ancient form of body art, although it almost certainly had either religious connotations or connections with showing rank and status. Tattooing has to have travelled with travelling people.

Tattooing must have spread all over the globe, wherever man went trading. Sailors are, or at least were, very superstitious people and sailors the world over are renowned for their tattoos.

In some cultures, traditionally the most beautiful girls and women were tattooed to prove for the rest of their lives that they were once of exceptional beauty. it is considered a boost in status.

Despite, let's guess, 5,500 years of a tattooing tradition, it is only now becoming acceptable in 'polite society' in the West thanks mainly to film stars, pop idols and sports personalities, but how do people in other parts of the world regard tattoos? In the West, they are almost purely ornamental now, but do other countries with different cultures have other uses for them still?

Some countries, Eastern and Western, used to brand or tattoo criminals, so these people used to try to keep their tattoos covered up after they were released from prison. In the Fifteenth Century condemned men were tattooed with a rose so that if they escaped they could easily be recognized. These men would definitely have covered their tattoo.

However, the history of tattooing criminals (and slaves) goes back much further than that. Romans used tattoos to identify their troops, their slaves and their gladiators. British (ex-pat) and American slave-owners used tattoos to identify their slaves and even tattooed them 'Tax Paid'. 

Romans tattooed the faces (foreheads) of slaves with 'Stop me I am a runaway'. The Nazis tattooed the forearms of concentration camp prisoners with their ID number both to identify them and to embarrass them as tattooing goes against the Jewish religion.

Tattooing in its contemporary Western variety comes from the Polynesian islands and was transported back to Britain by the English explorer Captain Cook and his sailors in the Eighteen Century. It was called tatau, but the word steadily became anglicized and spread throughout Europe among the seafarers, sailors and explorers.

Tattoos are associated with violence in many countries. Tattooing in Japan, especially full or very large body tattoos are used to identify members of the different Yakusa (mafia) gangs. The Russian mafia uses them too.

A 2004 survey in Britain revealed that 72% of those surveyed with head, neck or hand tattoos had spent at least three days in jail in comparison with 6% of the non-tattooed populace.

The Latin word for 'tattoo' is 'stigma' from which we get the word 'stigmatize', which gives an accurate impression of what European societies in general think about tattoos. In other countries, such as Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, tattoos are frequently used to ward of bad luck and attract good luck.

by +Owen Jones