When relating the long history of tattooing, it’s hard to know where to start. Around 2000 BCE tattooing had a cultural significance in places as diverse as China, Crete and Arabia. Among tribeswomen in Borneo, a tattoo on the forearm indicated that woman’s special skills. Among the Maori of New Zealand, intricate tribal tattoo designs had a sacred significance. The Greeks and Romans used tattoos for a different purpose – to show criminal or slave status! This is a concept that we could call the ‘dark side’ of tattoo history – the fact that body tattooing has been used, in certain times in history, to indicate an inferior status. This is relatively unusual and in most cultures, tattoo art is a symbol of status or accomplishment.
The people of the Americas also practiced tattooing – the Maya and Inca people were adept in tattooing techniques, as were the Inuit of Alaska! And, while we may not be accustomed to thinking of Europeans in terms of “tribes”, it was not too long ago when the people of Europe were just that – think of the Britons, the Normans, the Goths – and yes, most of these people practiced tattooing as well! However, following the Dark Ages in Europe, the people organized themselves into nations and tattooing became an all-but-forgotten art, only to be rediscovered during the course of eighteenth-century exploration.