There is no clear answer as to when were tattoos invented. Some believe that they date back to around 12 000 years ago, while others believe that they were first seen in Egypt around 3 000 BC. Tattoos have been found on mummies and tomb walls, so they have likely been around for a long time. Check out this article to learn about tattoos’ history and how they’ve evolved.

When did humans start getting tattoos?

Humans have been getting tattoos for thousands of years, with evidence of tattooing dating back to the Neolithic period, around 5000 years ago. The oldest known tattooed human skin was discovered on the body of a mummified man known as Ötzi, who lived around 3300 BCE.

Tattooing has been practiced by many different cultures throughout history, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. It was also a common practice among various indigenous tribes around the world, such as the Maori of New Zealand, the Polynesians, and the Native Americans.

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Tattooing has served many different purposes throughout history, including as a form of self-expression, a symbol of social status or religious affiliation, a form of identification, and a means of protection or healing. Today, tattooing is a popular form of body art and self-expression, with a wide range of styles and techniques available.

When Was Tattoos Invented & Where Did Tattoos Originally Come From?

When Was Tattoos Invented & Where Did Tattoos Originally Come From

Tattoos have been around for a very long time. The discovery of tattoos on mummified flesh proves that tattooing is an old art form. The earliest tattooed human remains are thought to date from 3370 BC to 3100 BC.

September 1991 saw the discovery of Otzi the Iceman. His moniker derives from the Otzal Alps, where he was discovered. He is the oldest human mummy in Europe since his body has naturally mummified and preserved.

Otzi has a total of 61 tattoos on his body; most are on his legs and spread out throughout various parts of his body. A close inspection of the mummy’s markings reveals that the tattoos were made with soot or fireplace ash.

Otzi may have the world’s oldest tattoos on record, but tattooing has been for a long time and has a rich history. This is supported by the discovery of tattooed mummies and bones in more than 49 places worldwide.

There have been tattooing practices discovered in Alaska, Mongolia, Greenland, Egypt, China, Sudan, Russia, and the Philippines, among other places. All of these finds have connections to various eras of ancient history. These some go as far back as 2100 BC.

Traditional and Ancient Methods

The origins of tattoos may be traced to ancient civilizations, therefore, several hypotheses explain why fresh skin tattoos have recently become more prevalent. These hypotheses account for the civilizations’ geographical setting and cultural heritage.

Let’s examine some of these civilizations in more detail and consider some hypotheses for why they formerly inked themselves.

Asia and China

Numerous mummies with tattoos on their skin have been discovered in specific graves in the Xinjiang area of western China.

Some mummies are much older, dating to roughly 550 BC, while others are much younger, dating as far back as 2100 BC. Tattooing was stigmatized and seen as barbaric in traditional Chinese culture.

Folk heroes and criminals are described in ancient Chinese literature as having tattoos. Additionally, it is believed to have been rather typical for condemned criminals to have tattoos on their faces.

This tattoo warned other people in the community that this individual was not to be trusted.

China Ancient Tattoos


It has been shown that tattooing goes back to at least 2000 BC, thanks to the discovery of tattooed mummies from ancient Egypt. According to specific hypotheses, the tattoos discovered on the mummies were only for ornamentation.

According to Daniel Fouquet’s research, tattooing may have even been a medical therapy in ancient Egypt.

His analysis of the many scars discovered on the mummified body of the priestess Hathor leads him to hypothesize that the marks may have served as a form of pelvic peritonitis therapy.

Another intriguing finding concerning tattooing in ancient Egypt is that it appears to have exclusively been done on women’s skin.

This idea is backed by the fact that there is little to no physical or artistic evidence that males were frequently tattooed. However, this custom was altered when Nubian males began getting tattoos during the Meroitic era, which lasted between 300 BC and 400 CE.

Egypt Ancient Tattoos


Samoan cultural practices have included tattooing for thousands of years. A fantastic illustration of how tattoos may become an essential component of societal culture is seen in the history of tattooing in Samoa.

Even the current English term “tattoo” is said to have descended from the Samoan word for a tattoo, “tatau.”

In Samoa, it has been customary to give and receive tattoos by hand for more than 2000 years. The methods and resources employed in this age-old profession have scarcely altered. Father-to-son instruction and transmission of the expertise.

The tattoos are applied with a homemade instrument consisting of a boar’s teeth and turtle shell. Traditional tattooing is a lengthy technique that takes weeks to finish. Tattooing rituals are typically performed to commemorate a young chief’s promotion to a position of authority in the community.

Once finished, the tattoos reflect and honor strong tenacity and devotion to the culture. Receiving one of these tattoos is excruciatingly painful, and there is a great danger of infection.

Sadly, those unable to bear the suffering risk having a mark of disgrace permanently inscribed on their skin.

Classical Greece and Rome

According to written documents, tattooing was practiced in Greece as early as the fifth century BCE. During this time, tattoos were mostly reserved for social misfits in Greece and Rome. Slaves, prisoners of war, and criminals would all have status markings.

After conquering the Samians, the Athenians tattooed owls onto them as a renowned illustration of the usage of tattoos by the Ancient Greeks. Evidence suggests that tattooing was mentioned in their ancient writings using the term “stizein,” which meant to pierce.

There is proof that warriors and those who made weapons in Ancient Rome had tattoos. This tradition is said to have persisted up to the ninth century. Enslaved people in ancient Rome were also tattooed to demonstrate that they had paid their taxes.

Classical Greece And Rome Ancient Tattoo

How Ancient Tattoos Affect Culture

Determining the precise significance of tattoos throughout history may be challenging, particularly in some of the very first ones. However, we can see that tattoos did play a significant role and had a significant cultural value in many different civilizations and regions of the world.

Interestingly, the tattoos on the Iceman’s body may have served a therapeutic purpose. On the spine and other joints, a sequence of dots and tiny crosses appear to have been placed deliberately to reduce joint discomfort.

Uncertainty surrounds whether ancient cultures thought these tattoos had actual medical effects or if they served more as spiritual or psychological talismans.

There are several ideas concerning the intended use of tattoos in ancient Egypt since they appear to have been almost entirely reserved for women. Some claim that they mark dancing females as prostitutes.

However, the fact that at least one of the ladies had tattoos and was a significant priestess seemed to refute this notion.

Another argument for why tattoos are overwhelmingly associated with women is that they were created as talismans to offer spiritual protection during pregnancy and childbirth.

This subject has been prevalent throughout many civilizations. Pre-Columbian South American tattoo evidence may also connect to pregnancy and fertility.

One such lady has permanent lines that wrap across her lower chest, span her tummy, and reach down between her hips. These marks appear to be connected in some manner to delivery.

Tattoos have historically served as a means of identifying people as members of particular social groups in various cultures. Ancient Greeks and Romans frequently tattooed people to identify them as either criminals or members of particular religious orders or cults.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that the Scythian tattoos were symbols of aristocracy.

However, it is certainly conceivable that these tattoos were just a fashion statement throughout numerous cultures and eras, just like they are today. It’s possible that people just admired a certain design and wanted to tattoo it on their bodies.

How Ancient Tattoos Affect Culture

Fashion Trends Throughout History

Until the middle of the 20th century, tattoos were not extremely popular or considered socially acceptable. They were previously only available to a select group of people, primarily those working in the entertainment business.

People with extensive tattoos have grown to be a draw in and of themselves.

Ink for Entertainment

John O’Reilly

John O’Reilly was among the most well-known tattooed individuals of the 1800s. His intricate and comprehensive body art made him a well-liked attraction in dime museums and the circus, where the crowd was drawn to and astounded by his tattoos.

John O’Reilly, also known as the “Tattooed Irishman,” had several elaborate tattoos that covered every inch of his body. One of the first accounts of O’Reilly’s tattoos was in a Brooklyn Daily Eagle piece.

The article, published on February 22, 1887, emphasizes his boxing bout performance. His tattoos are “hideous” and express his “barbarous habits.”

Ingrid de Burgh

In the late 1880s, a well-known tattooed woman named Emma de Burgh worked in the entertainment business. She and her spouse shared a workspace and were both tattooed by John O’Reilly, the same tattoo artist. De Burgh and her husband also enjoyed success in Europe’s sideshow industry.

They first debuted in Berlin, Germany, in 1891, and the audiences across Europe were awestruck by them for a while. Their tattoos included numerous religious overtones, such as references to the Last Supper and Calvary.

Tattoo Through the 20th Century

The most often used tattoo designs have altered and developed during the 20th century. We divided the history of ink into eras to better understand its development.

In western society, let’s examine the development of tattooing as an art form during the past 100 years.


The bulk of tattoos was discovered on sailors or circus performers around the turn of the 20th century. Both a person’s work and personal history might be revealed via tattoos. An anchor tattoo, for instance, was typical of sailors.

In the sailing world, getting inked also became a sign of identification. To welcome them on board, young sailors would receive tattoos after enlisting, much like an initiation rite.

From this point on, the traditional art form developed further and started to serve considerably more functional purposes. Many tattoos served as identification if sailors perished or went overboard.

From the many ports they went to; sailors would obtain tattoos. The tattoos represented both the length of their travel and the many stops. A swallow tattoo represented a trip of 5,000 miles, and a turtle tattoo signified a sailor had reached the equator.

Tattoo in 1910s

1920s Themed Tattoo

Women started to have cosmetic tattoos in great numbers throughout the 1920s. Since cosmetics were too expensive, many people would acquire current makeup trends tattooed on their faces. The most popular cosmetic tattoos were lip liner and eyebrows.

Traditional tattoos were still less widespread and less socially acceptable across society. Still, most tattoo people were considered outsiders, such as circus performers, sailors, and criminals.

Most women would conceal their cosmetic tattoos because getting a tattoo was socially unacceptable.


In the 1930s, social security numbers were introduced, and everyone was instructed to memorize their unique number. Several turned to get their social security numbers tattooed on their bodies to ensure they always had access to it.

Tattoos were still not considered socially acceptable, though. People tattooed their social security numbers more out of need than out of choice. People with social security numbers tattooed on them were not treated the same as others with more artistic and distinctive ink.

Still, only entertainers, sailors, and criminals were permitted to have tattoos. Not on morally upright people.

In the 1930s, new social ideas connected tattoos to suppressed sexual impulses emerged. In a published book, Albert Parry made the case that getting a tattoo is sexual.

Understandably, tattoos were frowned upon throughout this decade, given the general information.

1940 Tattoo Designs

The renowned “Sailor Jerry” tattoo design was developed in the 1940s by Norman Keith Collins. He gave tattoos color by making his own pigments and incorporating them into his tattoo designs. Bold patterns and many hues are common characteristics of this decade’s great designs.

Themes-wise, tattoos in the 1940s mainly featured nautical or military themes. Due to World War Two, there was also a rise in nationalistic tattoos. Women’s employment in the workforce and tattooing among women both increased throughout the war.

With this fundamental change in tattoo design, the acceptability of tattoos increased. Because of its rising appeal, ornamental ink was worn much more frequently than in earlier decades. People continue to select tattoos in the Sailor Jerry style today because many designs are timeless classics.

Tattoo in 1940s


As the 1950s went on, tattoos began to symbolize masculinity. Despite tattoos becoming increasingly popular, especially among “bad guys,” a negative societal stigma was still attached to them. People with tattoos were more likely to be classified as thugs or criminals.

Tattoos were once again seen as the stigmata of the outcast since society had taken a small step backward. The 50s saw sustained popularity of nautical tattoos among those who were tattooed. The popularity of breast tattoos increased over the decade as well.


Throughout the 1960s, hepatitis cases in New York were attributed to an increase in tattoo parlors. This may or may not have been accurate, but it undoubtedly brought a bad reputation to the tattoo business. This meant that throughout this decade, many people refrained from having tattoos.

But when well-known performers like Janis Joplin underwent the needle, the 1960s saw an upsurge in the number of tattooed heroes in the media. Lyle Tuttle was one of the greatest and most well-known tattoo artists at the time, and celebrities flocked to him.

Due to the Vietnam War, there was a decline in the popularity of patriotic tattoos. Especially among motorcyclists, the traditional skull and crossbones patterns became very popular.


In the 1970s, tattoos truly started to gain popularity and general acceptance. They were no longer just for the social misfits; today, ordinary people also aspired to acquire them. In this decade, peace signs and slogans have been very prevalent.

A new fashion trend with complex and detailed motifs also gained popularity in the 1970s. Bodysuits and full-sleeve tattoos started showing up on young individuals participating in the counterculture.

1980 Tattoo Designs

The 1980s, a decade of the uprising, saw tattoos become even larger and more vibrant. Celtic knots, vivid theme patterns, and strong black lines became more prevalent. The booming tattoo industry was also influenced by the music scene, especially rock and roll.

Many individuals were motivated to be inked by the tattoos of their favorite rock stars. By the 1980s, society had finally gotten on board, and tattoos were, for the most part, socially acceptable. More and more “ordinary” individuals got tattoos as stigmas faded.


The major tattoo styles of the 1990s were heavily influenced by celebrities, much like in the 1980s. Pamela Anderson’s barbed-wire armband was one of the most recognizable and well-known tattoo designs of the 1990s.

Other well-liked patterns from this era include sun tattoos, Chinese characters, and tribal patterns.

Around the world, concerns over the West’s appropriation of traditional and tribal tattoo patterns first surfaced. Global discussions regarding ethics and appropriation were made possible by the growth of digital communications.


The popularity of lower back tattoos grew around the start of the twenty-first century. One of the most popular spots for female tattoos is the infamous “tramp stamp.” Additionally, popular symbols are the butterfly and Yin-Yang.

Throughout the “noughties,” tattoo trends were still set by celebrities. Because of the singer Rihanna, star tattoos have become more prevalent.

Tattoo in 2000s


The 2010s have thus far seen trends in tattoo location and design. These days, it’s increasingly fashionable to have little tattoos in strange locations like the fingers or behind the ears. A lot of individuals favor unconventional and imaginative designs.

A novelty mustache is now one of the most popular designs for a little finger tattoo. The infinity sign, feathers, and perennially popular tribal tattoos are other popular styles.

Instruments Used to Make Tattoos Throughout History

The instruments and inks used to apply tattoos have changed, much like societal perceptions and popular designs have. The materials used to make tattoo instruments varied widely before the invention of contemporary tattoo guns.

With Polynesian tattooing equipment, a tattoo can only be created by two individuals. These instruments are a straight chisel and a hammer.

The skin is sliced repeatedly by the tattoo artists. The skin where the incisions have been created is then pounded with the ink. This approach is often referred to as “Stick and Poke.”

Similar methods are used in indigenous groups, where getting a tattoo signifies a particular stage in life. Tattoo needles used in ancient Egypt were allegedly composed of metal. Needles come in various sizes to enable the creation of complex and simple motifs.

Homemade inks were used for the earliest tattoos. These inks were probably created by mixing oil or breast milk with ash or soot. Smoking candlenuts produce traditional Samoan tattoo ink over a fire.

After the nut has burned down, the soot is collected and combined with sugar and water.

Modern tattoo supplies

Modern tattoo supplies

In 1891, tattooing started in a more basic manner than now. Samuel O’Reilly was the first to get an electric tattoo machine patent. The electric pen, invented by Thomas Edison, served as the inspiration for the design.

The popularity of tattoos steadily rose after the invention of the electric tattoo machine.

Geological or mineral sources were employed to make the inks used in the firearms. Iron oxide or carbon were used to create black ink, whereas cinnabar was used to create red. Different cadmium compounds were used to create various orange, red, and yellow hues.

The use of colors made from minerals has decreased thanks to recent, sophisticated technologies. Nowadays, organic pigments are employed more often. Additionally, a variety of fillers, binders, and preservatives are used in modern inks.

How Many People Have Tattoos?

Even though they are almost commonplace now, how much do we actually understand about this 6,000-year-old phenomenon? Here are some statistics related to tattoos:

17 percent of tattoo owners express remorse about their ink. “It’s a name of another person” is the most frequent justification for remorse.
There are more than 20,000 tattoo parlors in the United States. Every day, this number increases by one.

In 2002, “Tattoo” surpassed all other search terms on the Internet.

  • Seventy percent of those with tattoos have more than one, and 20% have five or more.
  • Between the ages of 18 and 29, 36% of Americans have at least one tattoo.
  • Adults with tattoos make up 72% of the population, and most of them are covered by clothes.
  • Compared to males, more women regret getting tattoos.

In 2012, 21% of Americans reported having at least one tattoo. In just the US, it amounts to over 45 million individuals.

According to data from 2005, just 6% of patients who have laser treatment from the American Society of Dermatological Surgery had their tattoos removed.
In the United States, 30% of college grads have tattoos.

In the UK, 35% of people between the ages of 30 and 39 have tattoos. Women are more likely to have a tattoo on their ankle (27%) than males are to have one on their upper back or shoulder (34 percent ).

5% of people who dislike their tattoos choose to cover it up with another one rather than get it removed.

In Australia, up to 10 sessions are needed to completely erase 47% of tattoos that are removed with a Q-switched laser. More than 15 are required for 26% of tattoos.

In the United States, those aged 50 to 64 make about 11% of individuals with tattoos.

For smaller tattoos, the hourly rate is about $45; for larger ones, it’s about $150. Ink is an annual 1.65 billion dollar industry in the United States.

Of those with tattoos, 31% believe it has made them more seductive, 29% believe it has made them (or reveals) rebellious, and 5% believe it has shown their intelligence.

Japanese is the most popular language for tattoo inspiration searches. Only 8% of people who get tattoos think that cost is the most crucial consideration when choosing a tattoo artist or tattoo parlor, while 49% of those who get tattoos say that a tattoo’s message is significant to them.

In the United States, 13% of women and 15% of males have tattoos.

According to 42% of respondents, tattoos have no effect on a person’s attractiveness. 22 percent believe they don’t, while 24 percent believe they do.

In the United States, 36% of active-duty military personnel and Army veterans have tattoos. 69 percent of respondents believe that tattoos don’t make persons any more or less deviant than those without them.

According to 32% of tattoo owners, ink is their addiction.


FAQs About History Of Tattoos Timeline

Where Did Tattoos Originate?

Otzi the Iceman, whose mummified remains were found in the Alps between Austria and Italy in 1991, is the owner of the earliest known tattoos.

According to Jablonski, he passed away around 3300 B.C., although the custom of putting pigment beneath the skin’s surface dates back far further than Otzi.

When Did Tattoos Become Popular In America?

When Social Security numbers were established in the 1930s, individuals raced to tattoo parlors to have their numbers inked on their arms, chests, or backs as a memory help. These tattoos were trendy.

Why Are Tattoos Addictive?

When under stress, your body releases a hormone called adrenaline. This stress response can be brought on by the discomfort the tattoo needle causes, which results in a quick surge of energy known as an adrenaline rush. Your heart rate can go up as a result of this.

Why Are Tattoos So Popular?

Even those from earlier generations who considered tattoos sinful have changed their views. The widespread acceptance of tattoos in society is one of the main factors contributing to their rising popularity.

As mentioned, tattoos are a common form of self-expression among young people.

Who Was The First Person To Get A Tattoo?

Tzi, the Iceman’s body contains the earliest tattooed human skin ever discovered, which dates to anywhere between 3370 and 3100 BC.


This also relates to our contemporary world, as many ancient societies used tattoos to identify as followers of a particular religion. No, we don’t make it mandatory, nor does any significant religion need it to join the group formally.

However, many people acquire tattoos to show off their religious beliefs. On their bodies, many Christians get religious symbols or words tattooed. While some religions support this practice, others oppose it.

Restorbio hope you found this article useful and thank you for reading!