When people think of "classic" tattoos, oftentimes images of nautical pictures, pinup girls or hearts with arrows through them come to mind. This iconic style, known colloquially as "Sailor Jerry" after the artist whose work is synonymous with the style, has a reputation for being the common conception of "old-school" tattoos.
Of course, tattooing as a practice predates this art style by a few millennia. Many cultures were inking themselves for status, aesthetics or religious devotion in the earliest days of our social history. These early tattoo pioneers established the trends and styles that would go on to shape the development of the art of tattooing. Here are a few examples of tattoos that go way, way back.
One of the biggest celebrities in the tattooing world isn't a superstar artist or famous pop culture icon, but a man hailing from the Italian Alps named Otzi. What's unique about him is that he's 5,300 years old, according to The Atlantic. Known as the Iceman, Otzi's discovery in 1991 rocked the anthropological world. Not only was he one of the earliest humans scientists have found, but he also carried some important information with him about tattooing and its origins.
As it turns out, Otzi was something of a tattoo enthusiast, with his body being covered by around 61 inked designs, the source noted. This makes him, as far as scientists can tell, the oldest tattooed human ever, and it redefines the original conception of when the practice began by about 2,000 years. Even more interesting is the suspected reason for many of the Iceman's tattoos. Researchers have speculated that the location of several of them along major stress points in the joints may indicate that tattooing might have held a therapeutic purpose for Otzi and his kin as well as a decorative one.
The Siberian princess
One discovery by Siberian scientists in 1993 revealed that even 2,500 years ago people had a keen sense of style when it came to tattooing. The body of a woman, believed to have been around 25 years old, was found preserved in the Siberian permafrost. Believed to be a princess due to the elaborate trappings with which she was buried – including six horses and even full meals, according to the Siberian Times – the woman astounded scientists who discovered her body was covered with tattoos.
The woman is believed to have belonged to a tribe of people known as the Pazyryks. This speculation is based largely off of the elaborate nature of her tattoos, since the Pazyryk tribe is known to have frequently incorporated ornate designs into their tattooing. Included among the designs are images of animals such as leopards and deer, as well as mythical creatures. According to the source, tattoos were often used by the Pazyryks as a form of personal identification, and were also believed to hold spiritual significance in the afterlife.
The Egyptian woman
We may think of religion and tattooing as having a somewhat dicey relationship, but a 1,300-year-old woman from Egypt may help ease that tension. According to Discovery, the woman's thigh was tattooed with ancient Greek characters, which researchers have translated as the name of the Archangel Michael from The Bible. Scientists studying the woman believe that her tattoo, and others like it from the same time period, were commonly used as a form of spiritual protection. Similar to an amulet or charm, tattooing the name of a powerful biblical figure on one's body was believed to help ward off evil.
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