The majority of people today have a specific image in their heads when the topic of tattooing is brought up. Many instantly hearken back to the days of sailors pulling into port, bikers noisily rumbling through quiet towns or gangs of all walks of life designating their status and allegiance through their ink. Interestingly, while these are more often than not the most common conception associated with body art, these stereotypes are far from defining and, in fact, have only been recently formed over the past few decades. 

In reality, tattooing is a practice as old as humans themselves. Spanning almost every major culture across the globe from ancient times onward, body art is an integral part of our cultural history. In fact, many cultures and ethnicities even use tattoos specifically for historical record and sharing stories with others, both within and without culture. Tattoos can provide a variety of unique cultural illustrations for those who know where to look. 

Tattoos as a cultural road sign
For some, getting a tattoo is no more complicated than appreciating the aesthetics of the image being inked onto their skin. As CNN noted, tattoos are no longer the social taboo they once were, with nearly 40 percent of adults having one somewhere on their body. While the individual motivations for getting a tattoo are as personal and varied as the countless millions of designs themselves, some believe that there is a larger lesson to be gleaned from looking at how the practice itself has adapted in recent years.

As Cambridge University's Museum of Archeology and Anthropology director Nicholas Thomas told the source, something that has both been affected by and has impacted the growth in tattoo popularity is the changing nature of the relationship many Westerners have with their bodies. Thomas noted that new medical procedures and technologies have opened the door to a body that is as mutable and changeable as ever. Just how people undergo cosmetic surgery for various appearance-related concerns, tattooing can often be motivated by a similar desire to improve or even take ownership over a certain part of the body. 

Similarly, more adults are turning to tattoos as a means of identifying with a cultural or social group in the face of a shrinking world with ever-blurring borders. 

"People are no longer simply British or Australian or Californian," Thomas told the source. "Our identities are far more particular, linked to our interests, affinities to cultural or spiritual traditions, tastes in music, and subcultural allegiances. The tattoo has become a vehicle for that sort of particular identification.

Tracing the roots
Even this growing practice of embracing body art as a mark of social belonging or status is itself centuries, if not millennia old. In fact, CNN reported that the oldest-known instance of a tattoo is over 8,000 years old, found on the mummified body of a man from Peru. 

Polynesia and Samoa provides a well-known example of this type of cultural tattooing. PBS noted that in Samoan culture, tattoos are used as a rite of passage for men of the higher social castes. Tribal chiefs, in particular, were often tattooed around the beginning of puberty. If you think tattoo regret is a concern today, you should know modern tattooing has nothing on these cultural practices. According to the source, the traditional technique was exceedingly painful and dangerous. Recovery could take months, and infection was a common occurrence. Still, the practice was undertaken specifically as a demonstration of stoicism and dedication. For these Samoan chiefs, enduring the pain was, in large part, the primary point. 

Fortunately, while many tattooing practices that are popular today have their roots in these types of cultural histories, today's artists are not as extreme in their methods.

PicoSure® is the latest technology for laser tattoo removal and offers faster and better removal in fewer treatments. PicoSure shatters ink into smaller, dust-like particles which are more efficiently absorbed by the body's natural processes. It is the first and only aesthetic picosecond laser that is FDA-cleared for the removal of tattoos. Visit to learn more and find a PicoSure Practitioner near you.