The Ice Man had 57 Tattoos!

By: Bishop Chanakira

A friend of mine recently complained to me that his daughter had gone and got a tattoo on a discrete part of her body! Why, he asked, would anyone want to mark themselves like that? Young people today! Why indeed? Now I have a serious sense of history and thought to my self - tattoos; they have been around since Adam; or more correctly Adam’s son Cain when God marked him after he murdered his brother Abel to warn everyone that they would suffer vengeance seven times over if they killed him.

For thousands of years tattoos have been used to advertise their wearers’ status as important people or as slaves; for social or tribal groupings; to warn of past criminal behaviour; and for religious aspirations. The earliest known tattoos were found on the mummified body of the so called ‘Ice Man’ who died around 5,300 years ago crossing the snow covered ridge dividing Austria from Italy. The next earliest indication of tattooing was found on the bodies of Egyptian mummies from about 4,100 years ago.

OK, so we’ve established that tattooing has been going on since the first man or woman gashed themselves and noticed that the healed wound (filled with ash or whatever) made a pattern that they liked. But they were superstitious, uneducated, illiterate and uncivilised. We now, on the other hand, are well educated and civilised - so why do we still mark our bodies after all these millennia?

Naturally, the first thing I did was to talk to my beloved about this dilemma. It was quite a surprise to learn that she had in fact had her eye lids tattooed! Being of fair complexion, she explained that after swimming, working out or showering, her eye liner would always run or disappear. Well that made sense to me: cosmetic tattooing. Saves time and money! Apparently permanent tattoo make-up can replace the eyebrow pencil, eye liner, lipstick and lip liner. You could also use tattooing to cover skin discolouration or moles, Why wouldn’t you?

And she said knowingly; there are some pretty good health reasons for tattoos too! I checked and guess what? Modern health tattoos can warn emergency responders of your specific chronic disease or illness, your unusual blood group, or any allergic reactions to drugs that may normally be given in an emergency situation. And guess what. Remember the Ice Man? He has some 57 tattoos on his body which experts suggest were therapeutic. Initially their placement on his body was thought to be random; but after more careful examination, it was noticed that the tattoos were on his lower spine, right knee and ankle joints - just where there was some degeneration caused by past strains from his exertions.

Health and religious beliefs have often been intertwined in the tattoos of ancient peoples who seek help from their gods or goddesses to cure, protect or help them for a variety of reasons. From the Celts to the Tibetans, from the Ainu to the Polynesians; all used the tattoo as a medium to attain inner health or their gods’ blessings. But what about today? Yes - more of my family! My dearest daughter has ancient Sanskrit words tattooed on her shoulder to remind her of a traumatic event in her past; the words a permanent prayer for inner peace and guidance.

Today we also seem to want tattoos just because they make us feel good - fell better about ourselves. We want to feel just that bit different, superior or even special. Maybe in today’s ‘all the same’, homogenised society, we need to differentiate ourselves from others.

I think I’ll go out and get a tattoo!

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Bishop explores the modern popularity of tattoo designs and tattoo pictures and contrasts current thinking with the past.

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