What did President Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill’s mother have in common? They both had tattoos. While Jennie Churchill’s tattoo was allegedly covered for the sake of reputation, and Teddy Roosevelt’s was simply in a location which was not readily visible, this information caused a stir amongst many of their day as well as modern-day history buffs. President Roosevelt’s daughter Alice also had a tattoo which was in a concealed location. Neither Mrs. Churchill’s nor President Roosevelt’s artwork, however, lent itself to gaining a sense of respectability amongst the average citizens. Even when such notable figures possessed tattoos, they were still considered to be socially unacceptable for most people.
Going as far back as any studies have been on the subject, it is claimed that the “Ice Man” who lived some 3300 years B.C., had some form of tattoos. Upon discovering the remains, researchers have been able to do little but guess that this most primitive form of tattoo was for the purpose of warding off evil spirits, or that it may have been some type of rite-of-passage. Combined on his spine and behind one knee and on one ankle, the Ice Man had approximately fifty-seven tattoos. While it is impossible to do more than speculate as to the actual reason for them, it certainly shows that tattoos are not unique to current eras nor to the people in the modern-day world. As the Ice Man was the oldest mummified human remains found in Europe, today’s tattoo fans have history on their side– there’s nothing “modern” about tattoos.
In the distant past, tattoos were connected to an entirely different nature than they have been during the last few decades. There was nothing notorious or rebellious about them. It used to be that tattoos were reserved for those of high social standing, and were not available to average people. Tattoos were only available to– and a sign of– those who were wealthy, important, and usually in some high position of government or royalty. Sweden’s King Oscar had tattoos; so did England’s King George the fifth. In that era, tattoos were a status symbol.
In other time-periods, tattoos also served specific purposes. Going the furthest back in American history, many Native American tribes utilized the practice of tattoos; it was primarily for the purpose of showing one’s connection to one’s specific tribe. For the Polynesians, tattooing was a method of relating family history; each individual person had his own individual tattoos to show the story of his family. Some of the earliest explorers on the American continent have been said to have acquired this practice from the Polynesians’ forms of tattoos.
Two of the oldest Egyptian mummies were discovered to have had tattoos. These tattoos, which have only been found on female mummies, consist of patterns of lines, dots and dashes. As the women themselves were connected to ritualistic practices, it is assumed that the tattoos they had in common were in some way representative of that fact. It is only speculation on the parts of the researchers, of course, based on their knowledge of the lifestyles of that period in time.
Although Oriental symbols are quite popular for tattoos in America, it is not widely known that both the Japanese and Chinese cultures have held a strong opposition to the practice of tattooing throughout history. With both societal and religious viewpoints agreeing that tattooing is something which should not be done, it is still considered to be a means of contaminating one’s body. For the ancient Chinese, tattooing was used as a punishment for criminal activity, putting such visible marks on a person to forever brand him as a criminal.