Tattoos: Between the Tribal and the Universal
Neolithic Period 6400-5800 BC) – the first culture in the region to use
clay. The second one, painted with impressive ornaments, found at the
Gilat Temple in the Negev, dates back to the Chalcolithic period (4500-
3600 BC). The third one was unearthed in Revadim in the Negev and
dates back to the Late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC). It depicts a goddess in
the process of giving birth to twins, her face is twisted in pain, her hands
are placed next to her genitalia, while the two infants are placed next to
her breasts. A symbol of a moon is placed on her neck, while date palms
and horned animals are situated on her thighs. Ornan suggests that this
might have been an apotropaic charm for women giving birth to twins, an
especially difficult birth.
The animals and the date palms probably offer a
visual representation of sacred sexuality, birth, and household harmony. It
is commonly believed that in the cultures of the ancient Near East, images
of women were interlaced with the image of a tree, since they both bore
fruit, and were both objects of admiration and worship as female deities
(it is worth mentioning here that with regards to the date palm, only the
female tree bears fruit).
According to Beck, the place of the ornaments on the thighs of women
suggests a connection to tattooing practices of neighboring Neolithic and
Egyptian cultures. Beck has therefore raised the possibility that these
ornaments are tattoos indeed.
Anthropological and historical evidence provide us with ample
information about the practice of tattooing the body. The Polynesian tattoo
is one of the most complex and glorious human creations, and represents
an artistic peak no less impressive than the great artworks created in other
mediums throughout the world.
Most of what we know about Polynesian
tattoo art is based on observations made byWestern explorers from the 18
century onwards. These explorers wished to both understand and expunge
this phenomenon. During Captain Cook’s first journey to Polynesia
between 1768 and 1771, Joseph Banks, the naturalist accompanying him,
documented the tattooed bodies of the indigenous people. However,
Banks also dismissed this phenomenon. The missionaries, who followed
in their footsteps, viewed this practice as a superstitious primitive ritual.