Part One of Three

In much of the western world, tattoo culture has become mainstream. People get tattoos to tell their stories, or make a nod to their people, or simply to have something to do on a Friday night. But for hundreds of years, tattoos have been ethnically symbolic, a rite of passage, and used as a tool to identify criminals.


Ancient History

In ancient times, the Dai people of China tattooed children as young as 5 years old. The Mayans tattooed themselves during religious ceremonies, with significance placed on bloodletting.  West African cultures often employed scarification, as scars can be seen easier on darker skin tones. In some cases, the cuts were made, followed by plant juices and charcoal to give them color and allow maximum blistering. 3000 year old Thai mummies have been found with tattoos which were given to protect them during life. Buddhist and Hindu tattooing also date back hundreds of years. Bulgaria boasts of female only tattoos from 2000 years ago adorned by the Thrace peoples. Indigenous people of the Americas widely tattooed themselves, from Cherokee to Seminole. No matter where on earth we study, ancient people tattooed themselves in creative and beautiful ways.



Next week we’ll look at ethnicity, art and culture at the intersection of tattoos.