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Tattoos: The Human Body as a Work of Art

of rituals, hymns, and mythological stories), help empower the experience

of the tattooed individual.


Tattoos have also been used as medicinal aides

by healers and shamans, throughout thousands of years. This type of

treatment combined philosophical ideas with real actions, among them,

tattooing the body. The ancient therapeutic tattoo functioned as a form

of “acupuncture”, and was used to alleviate certain pathological diseases,

which were often ascribed to the evil spirits that trouble man.


Art anthropologist Ellen Dissanayake claims that the drive to create

constitutes the very foundation of the Homos-Sapiens. In light of this

drive, she coined the term “

Homo Aestheticus



According to Dissanayake,

in indigenous cultures, art belongs not only to talented individuals, but

extends also to each and every member of the community. Thus, music,

dance, costumes, drawing, and tattoos, belong to the entire group. In the

same vein, the community defined and fashioned its world as a spectacular

performance in which each artwork is equivocal – both functional and

divine. Thus, since the art that was drawn on its surface underscored its

status as a divine vessel, we may understand the tattooed body as a link

between the physical and the metaphysical.

Material evidence of ancient tattooing customs have been uncovered

across the world. Archeological findings, such as, tattooed human

remains, artistic descriptions, and tattooing tools uncover the antiquity

of this custom.

The earliest tattooed human body was found in 1991 in the Ötztal

Alps – hence its nickname “Ötzi the Iceman”. This is the oldest known

human being, who lived around 3,300 BC.


His sophisticated clothes, and

the valuable possessions found next to him, indicate that he was of high

social status. His well-preserved body had sixty one tattoos. These tattoos

served probably a medicinal purpose, rather a decorative or symbolic

one – an amazing discovery in itself, since until then, it was believed

that acupuncture was invented in Asia around 1000 BC.


This finding

shows that the belief in the relation between the physical, biological, and

energetic parts of the body dates back to an even earlier phase in human

history. This discovery suggests, indeed, that in ancient times tattoos were