Tattoos: Meaning Behind the Mark

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Humans have ordained their bodies with tattoos for thousands of years. These permanent and artistic marks have always had a personal meaning. The beautiful marks that were so carefully and meticulously etched onto the skin have served many purposes. The tattoo showed signs of love and inspiration while others were used to ward off danger or to protect the human from certain dangers. Some people view tattoos as unnecessary marks on the human body, while others believe the tattoo represents life, death, and inspiration. The very first documented tattoo was found on a frozen mummy in today’s Maori. The mummy was 5,200 years old. Tattoos were also discovered on ancient female mummies in Northern Egypt. At first archeologists thought the mummies were slaves or servants to royalty but, the mummies were located in a queen’s tomb. The mummies had tattooed symbols throughout the body. Speculation among the archeologists was said to be that the tattoos are a healing power and were put on the body were it hurt. The mummies in the tomb are also documented to have small dots all over the abdomen and a tattoo of a small figurine on the tops of the thighs. The small figurine is believed to be that of the Bes God. Bes is the protector of women during labor. The women would tattoo a web like design all across their abdomens and down the pubic area when they became pregnant. It is written that by doing this it would keep them and their unborn child safe during pregnancy. (Lineberry, 2008). Along with the Egyptians several other cultures took up the art of tattooing. Woman in Borneo tattooed symbols on their forearms to indicate the skill that they were good at. If a woman wore the symbol to show she was a basket weaver, her status of marriageable material increased. Markings that were placed along the wrist and around the fingers were thought to ward off any illnesses. Greeks used tattoos to identify spies and normally the marks would indicate rank. Tattoos were also used to identify slaves who were owned by certain Roman families and the Romans also used tattoos to mark criminals. Unfortunately, this practice of marking criminals is still practiced today. Century after century tattoos continued to be an integral part of society. It was not until the late 1800’s that tattoos were seen in the U.S. and even then tattoos were mainly used by the American Indians. Native American Indians used tattoos as a way of recognizing tribe members. Tattoos were also used for spiritual reasons. “In America, the earliest records of tattoos come from ship logs, letters, and diaries written by sailors in the early 19th century. The most popular designs in traditional American tattooing evolved from various artists who traded, copied, swiped, and improved on each other’s works.” ( Vanishing tattoo, 2008). Soldiers and sailors who fought in both world wars used the various symbols. “Most of the designs represented courage, patriotism; defiance of death, and a longing for loved ones left behind.” (Vanishing tattoo, 2008). During the Civil war several tattoo artists found employment in Washington, D.C... The best-known tattooist of the time was a man from Germany named Martin Hildebrandt; he began his career in 1846. Martin Hildebrandt traveled a great deal and was welcomed in both Union and Confederate camps. Martin Hildebrandt established what is to be considered the first American tattoo studio in 1870, in New York City. Another famous tattooist is Samuel O’reilly, he invented the first electric tattoo machine. Overnight tattooing in the USA was revolutionized. (Vanishing tattoo, 2008). In America tattoos continued to gain popularity. Body ornamentation was spreading among western societies. Working class men wore tattoos primarily as a symbol of tough masculine pride. In the 1950s and 1960s the hippie movement turned to Asian tattooing techniques as personal expression of spiritual and mystical aestheticism. In 1970 the...
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