Tattooing has a long history in most of the world. According to archaeological record and ancient artifacts, tattooing existed as early as the Neolithic times. The earliest tattooed human skin was found on the upper lip of a mummy dating back to 6000 BC, excavated in South America. In Europe, tattooing was found on the body of Otzi the Iceman who lived around 3300 BC. Other tattoo-bearing mummies have been discovered in other regions, such as Egypt and Russia.
Based on written records, many northern and central European tribes were heavily tattooed in pre-Christian time. The Picts, which means “the painted ones”, tattooed their warriors to intimidate their enemies. The Celts likely adopted this tactic during wartime and tattooed Celtic warriors with Celtic tattoos. They boiled the leaves of the Woad plant to create a viscous substance, which they tapped into the skin with a needle to perform Celtic tattoos.
In Southern India, permanent Indian tattoos known as pachakutharathu were very common; while in the north, Indian tattoos called godna were more popular. These tattoos were used among different tribes as cultural symbols. Another type of Indian tattoos that remains popular today is called Henna, which got its name from the henna plant from which the dye was prepared.
Egyptian tattoos were mostly found on women, and the designs were based on the person’s social status. In Ancient Egypt, tattoos were used for various purposes, including religion, healing, as well as punishment.
In ancient China, tattooing was not as well accepted as in other ancient countries. Chinese tattoos were mainly associated with barbarians, bandits, and prisoners. It was a Chinese custom to tattoo the face of prisoners and brand them as criminals for life. In a Chinese legend, the mother of famous general Yue Fei tattooed his back with the words “Repay the Country with Loyalty” before he left home to join the army.
Japanese tattoos were used for decorative and spiritual purposes, and this custom was very widespread and was found as early as 10,000 BC. In later eras of Japanese history, Japanese tattoos were mainly used by manual workers, firemen, and prostitutes (or Geisha) to communicate their status.
Moreover, tattooing was used as a punishment from the early 18th century to the late 19th century. During this period, a ring would be tattooed on the arm of a criminal for each crime they commit. The practice of tattooing was later adopted by the Samurai after they were stripped of their armor by the emperor. However, this practice was outlawed in the Meiji period, when tattooing was viewed as disrespectful and barbaric.