Your body is your canvas. While you can't change the skin you came in, you can use a permanent art form to mark it with your own beliefs and experiences. It's possible to "craft" the perfect body using ink, as long as it represents who you are.
People get tattoos for a myriad of reasons. Some of them proudly flaunt their tattoos as "war scars," while others consider them to be a beautiful and necessary form of self-expression.
Like a scrapbook on the skin, a tattoo can work as a lifelong memory of an event or period of one’s life. It may remind a person of their past challenges, and how these challenges made them stronger.
Tattoos can also be mementos of loved ones who are no longer among us. They immortalize people and values, honouring those we hold dear.
Finally, the simple idea of having a permanent drawing on the skin is enough of a reason to get something tattooed.
Versatile as they are, the meaning of tattoos varies widely from person to person. Most of all, tattoos have had plenty of different meanings throughout time and cultures.
In this article, we'll go over a brief history of tattoos as forms of self-expression – as well as how tattoo symbolism and placement can help convey one's individuality.
Until the present moment, the history of tattoos traces back to around 3000 to 4000 B.C.
For a long time, archaeologists believed the oldest tattoos belonged to a Chinchorro mummy from around 4000 B.C. Chinchorro mummies belonged to the South American Chinchorro culture, which was found to be today's northern Chile. According to the Smithsonian Institute, the tattoo in question was a thin mustache on what they believed to be a 35 to 40-year-old mummy.
However, in 1991, the debate of who the oldest tattoos belonged to was settled. The German couple Helmut and Erika Simon found the upper body of who was later found to be a European Tyrolean Iceman named Ötzi. The Iceman’s body was covered in tattoos.
By using a method called radiocarbon dating, archaeologists could determine that Ötzi died at around 3250 B.C. Older than the Chinchorro mummy by at least 500 years, experts have crowned him as the bearer of history’s most ancient tattoos.
Some sources say Ötzi the Iceman had 61 tattoos across his body, while other sources like the Wellcome Collection claim he had 57.
Unlike the tattoos found in the mummy, his dozens of tattoos indicate therapeutic purposes rather than cosmetic purposes. Radiocarbon dating practices showed that Ötzi's tattoos were located in areas where he suffered from joint and spinal degeneration.
Even time-honoured tattoos vary in meaning and purpose. At a tribal level, tattoos can also denote someone's experience, marital status, as well as their class and amount of power over other tribes.
Here are a few more examples of the different meanings tattoos have held throughout history:
According to Scottish physician David Livingstone, Apache and Comanche warriors made their war scars more visible by rubbing earth on them. Later, they could exhibit their tattoos as trophies within the tribe.
In the ancient Greco-Roman world, tattoos were synonymous with punishment. According to Herodotus, the Greeks learned the idea of penal tattoos from the Persians during the sixth century B.C so that they could identify slaves and criminals.
German physician Karl von den Steinen believed that South Americans used to rub watery plant fluids onto wounds as a means of healing. The plant sap would cause discoloration in the wound, thus resulting in a tattoo.
Although archaeologists have found convincing documentation of the world's oldest tattoos, they could still stumble across even more ancient evidence in the future. It is clear that the art of tattooing is, indeed, ancestral.
When we see someone's new tattoo, we're always inclined to ask them what's the meaning behind it.
Often, all they'll say is that it doesn't mean anything in particular, or that they just decided to get a tattoo. In most cases, though, people will have a solid explanation behind the art. After all, a tattoo becomes part of one's identity once it’s done.
There are plenty of examples showing the individualistic meaning of certain tattoos. For example, the semicolon (;) tattoo usually follows mental health motivations. The semicolon is a punctuation mark used to indicate a pause between two clauses. As it signifies a pause rather than an ending, the semicolon is an empathetic message against suicide and other mental health problems.
Love is another unfading theme for tattoos. Many couples and families eternalize their love for one another in the form of matching tattoos so they can take those people with them wherever they go. Self-love and self-acceptance tattoos are also lasting reminders that we should be kinder to ourselves.
Tattoo placements also have meanings of their own, and placement can even influence the meaning of tattoos. For instance, wanting a tattoo that's hidden versus a tattoo that can be easily seen says a lot about someone's personality.
This statement makes a lot of sense when we consider self-love and mental health-related tattoos. By and large, these types of ink are seen on the hand, forearm, or other accessible areas of the body. This way, a person can remind themselves of their value whenever they sneak a glance at those areas.
At the same time, don't worry if your tattoo placements are completely random. They can still carry meaning, even if that meaning is unique to you.
Although certain tattoos like the semicolon may have "typical" interpretations and placements, the truth is that tattoos can mean anything you want. Perhaps you just want a neat piece of art on your body, and that doesn’t need an elaborate explanation.
If you’re thinking of getting a meaningful tattoo, you’re probably researching countless designs and their meanings. Or, you could be thinking up an exclusive design for yourself. Regardless of the ideas lingering in your head, we at Black Line Tattoo would love to be the ones to bring them to life. Reach out to a member of our team today to get started on building the body of your dreams.