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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.

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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).

21

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.

22

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.

23

Most of what we know about Polynesian

tattoo art is based on observations made byWestern explorers from the 18

th

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.

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