As you sit scrolling through your Instagram feed looking for tattoo inspiration, on your phone which has more computing power than that used for the first moon landing. You may want to pause and reflect on how we got to this point. How long long have we humans felt the need to insert pigment into our skin as a form of adornment?
In October 1991, a frozen body was discovered in Otztal Alps between Italy and Austria. This unfortunate soul was apparently caught in a snowstorm probably while returning from hunting. A bow and arrows along with a bronze axe were among some of the possessions found with the body. Preserved to an amazing degree by the glacial conditions, Otzi, as he came to be christened by the scientists examining him, lived somewhere between 3400 and 3100 BCE.
While Otzi still retains the title as the world’s oldest tattooed human, it is generally accepted that tattooing predates him.
His incredibly preserved skin revealed a total of 61 tattoos, consisting of groups of parallel lines. For a period an unidentified mummy of the Chinchorro culture, vied with Otzi for the title of owner of the oldest discovered tattoos. This was settled by researchers in 2015, showing that Otzis’ tattoos were at least 500 years older.
While Otzi still retains the title as the world’s oldest tattooed human , it is generally accepted that tattooing predates him. Instruments that were probably used for tattooing during the Upper Paleolithic period (10,000 BCE to 38,000 BCE) have been discovered in several archeological sites in Europe. In 2018 two mummies were discovered 40 km south of Luxor, Egypt. While Otzi had simple geometric designs, one of the mummies had illustrations of a wild bull and a sheep on the upper arm, the oldest known examples of illustrative tattoos.
So next time you are in the chair, adding to your own tattoo collection, remember that you are the latest in a long line of humans stretching back millenia, who have felt the draw of the art and craft that is tattooing.