In 1768, captain Cook came back from Oceania with a crew covered in tattoos as a souvenir from their expedition. Tattooing was then reintroduced in the occidental world after having been banished for many centuries by the Catholic Church. However, the history of tattooing does not stop there. The oldest mummy in the world is covered of such marks and it isn't the only one.
A bronze age man died five thousand years ago and his corpse was imprisoned in the ice of the mountains separating Austria and Italy. We found more than 50 tattoos over his body which consisted mainly of lines and crosses. Those marks have been made by scrubbing charcoal into fine wounds. The reason behind those tattoos was probably therapeutic, since their locations correspond with parts of the body touched by arthritis.
Amunet was an egyptian priestess of the goddess Hathor in Thebes and was probably a concubine of king Mentuhotep II. She lived during the ninth dynasty (around 2150-1990 BC) and her body was covered of tattoos resembling those on brides of the dead (little figurines placed in tombs of male mummies). The most particular ones were located on the bottom of her belly and were accompanied by scarifications. Those marks were probably related to an idea of fertility and were found on many mummies of dancers. Here are some interesting facts:
1. All of the egyptian mummies found to this day, only those of women were tattooed.
2. The first figurative tattoo that was made represented Bes, the god of revelry and master of ceremonies at orgies.
In the Altai Mountains of Siberia, close to the borders of Mongolia and China, was found a tomb of a nomad chief of horsemen that lived around 500 BC. Rain flooded in the tomb shortly after the burial and by freezing, it preserved the chief's tattooed skin. Animals (mythical and real) were the main subjects of his tattoos. We think that those were made by the insertion of little needles also used for broidery. But the most surprising are the little circles on his back that coincide with the linear markings on Otzi's back. The tattoos correspond to acupuncture marks, which was said to have originated in China two thousand years ago...
Other tattooed mummies have been found around the world such as in Libya and Peru proving that tattooing have a far more complex history than what we are usually led to believe.