How Old is the Oldest Tattoo?
Well, nobody really knows. Just like no one knows what the oldest tattoos look like. But archaeologists have discovered a mummified body up to 7,000 years old that shows signs of tattooing. This mummy was found in the Alps, with carbon tattoos consisting of simple dots and lines. Since this occurred before most civilizations discovered writing, we have no idea who he was or why he had a tattoo. Of course, archaeologists have their theories, but without hard evidence, they are just suppositions.
The oldest documented cases of tattoos are the Greek (1000 BC) and Egyptian (2000 BC). No one really knows how to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, so archaeologists basically suspect that Egyptian tattoos had to do with fertility. On the other hand, Greek and Roman tattoos were generally used to permanently mark their slaves and criminals. Only in the 6th century AD did the practice of tattooing spread to other parts of Roman society. Some records say that Roman veterans who served in Britain were tattooed as a form of honor.
Despite the antiquity of Chinese civilizations, there are no recognized historical records of tattoos. Apparently they too, like the Greeks and Romans, had a taboo against tattoos. This is in contrast to the Japanese, who were tattooed with religious tattoos in 300 BC. Interestingly, tattoos in Japan were not associated with the criminal element before the widespread contact with the Western world in the 19th century.
The other great Asian civilization, India, also had no history of permanent tattoos. However, there are temporary tattoos for cosmetic use by brides. This culture of temporary tattoos for brewing ceremonies has existed since the 12th century and is done with henna. This use of henna seems to have originated from the Egyptians and the Arabs 5000 years ago. The Egyptians used henna to decorate their pharaohs before the mummification process.
Today, tattoos have lost their religious aspect. Unlike the ancient Greeks and Romans, we also don’t use them to identify criminals. Even the association with criminals fades in modern Western civilization. Today’s young women wear discreet tattoos on their lower backs as a fashion statement. Hollywood celebrities continue to popularize the purely cosmetic use of tattoos.
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