History of Tattooing

Tattoos have been around for more than a few generations.

3300 B.C. -- Otzi the Iceman dies in the Alps. His frozen, preserved corpse is discovered in A.D. 1991; it bears the oldest examples of tattooing yet found. Scholars aren't sure whether his tattoos are decorative or evidence of acupuncture, but either way, Otzi makes his mark on tattooing history.

2000 B.C. -- Upper-class Egyptian women and priestesses are tattooed with a series of dots over the abdomen, thighs and breasts. Scientists hypothesize that these tattoos are a form of protection during pregnancy, since the abdominal markings would expand to cover the woman's belly as it grew.


A.D. 316 -- Roman Emperor Constantine bans the practice of facial tattooing. His rationale is that man has been created in the image of God, and so to defile the face is to disgrace the divine.

720 -- Body art goes out of fashion in Japan when officials begin using tattoos to punish criminals. This lasts until the 17th century, when tattooing is replaced by other punishments. Decorative tattoos quickly become fashionable once more.

922 -- While visiting what is now Russia, Arab diplomat Ahmad Ibn Fadlan encounters a group of heavily tattooed traders from northern Europe. Ibn Fadlan describes the tattoos as dark green lines and pictures, extending from the tip of each man's toes to his neck.


History of Tattooing (Cont.)

1769 -- After an expedition to Tahiti and New Zealand, British explorer Capt. James Cook brings back tales of the natives' elaborate body art. He also popularizes the vocabulary we still use today: The Polynesian word tatau (meaning "to strike") gives rise to the Western term "tattoo."

1846 -- Martin Hildebrandt opens the first U.S. tattoo parlor in New York City, servicing clientele that includes soldiers from both sides of the Civil War. His daughter, Nora, rises to fame in the 1890s when she tours with the Barnum and Bailey Circus as the Tattooed Lady.


1891 -- Samuel O'Reilly invents the electric tattoo machine, which is inspired by Thomas Edison's autographic printing pen. Modern tattoo machines are still largely based on O'Reilly's design.

1961 -- New York City bans tattooing, fearing a potential hepatitis B epidemic. The New York City Council lifts the ban in 1997. Three months later, the first annual New York Tattoo Convention is held in the city.

2006 -- Scientists at Harvard University develop an erasable tattoo ink. Though it won't wash off in the shower, the ink's structure makes it easier for lasers to remove tattoos. Erasable tattoo ink gains popularity among those who stencil their sweetheart's name on their bicep, as the design is less regrettable after a breakup.