The human proclivity to tattoo one’s body


Neil Snarr - Contributing columnist



I’m quite certain the recent tendency to adorn one’s body with pictures and other types of information is not new. In fact, recent archaeological discoveries certainly support that assumption.

“Preserved tattoos on ancient mummified human remains reveal that tattooing has been practiced throughout the world for several centuries. In 2015 scientific re-assessment identified Otzi (the iceman) as the oldest example then known. This body, with 61 tattoos, was found embedded in glacial ice in the Alps and was dated to 3250 BCE. In 2018 the oldest figurative tattoos in the world were discovered on two mummies from Egypt which are dated between 3351 and 3.” (I have found no effort to attribute these phenomena to extra-terrestrials … but wait!)

Closer to home, the discovery of the Wilmington Tablet found in a mound by two local men back in 1879 near the intersection of Route 73 and Anderson Road has been open to questions concerning its use. Though not confirmed, it is thought by archaeologists that it could have been used to place tattoos on these Adena people, using a local dye or soot.

The tablet is small, ca. 3 and 3/4th inches by 4 and 7/8ths with two mirror images of a raptor bird, two human faces and other images. The History Center has a copy of it, as do I. There have been some 15 of these tablets found in Ohio and adjacent states.

I grew up in a conservative Christian evangelical environment, and it was simply assumed that one would not get tattooed. Although I do not remember the only place in the Bible where tattooing is mentioned, it is very clear – Leviticus 19:28, which says: “You must not put tattoo marking upon yourself.” However, I do remember the Romans 12:1 scripture which states, “Present your bodies as sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God, a sacred service with your power of reason.” (I am not certain which version of the New Testament this is, but it is a bit different from what I was taught.)

On the other hand, I do not remember this scripture being used with reference to tattoos. As I remember, it was used with reference to drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking.

On a flight to New Zealand some years ago, I stopped for a few days on Tahiti and chanced a trip to nearby islands. Since it was off-season, I had time to talk with the guide who had a series of tattoos on his arms, and I asked what they represented. It was very clear they represented the clan and tribe to which he belonged – an indelible identity. It is my understanding that among indigenous people this is the rule – group solidarity.

In our society, tattoos are very much a choice of the person receiving them. The content might be flowers, a verse, a face, ad infinitum. It sounds like, “It’s your body, do with it as you please” – very consistent with the individualism that permeates our culture.

My thought is that if one has some money to invest, why not invest in ‘tattoo removal?’ I did find a survey that addressed such issues. “High prevalence of ‘tattoo regret’ among millennials is expected to propel the demand. For instance, according to an article published by B&T Magazine, nearly 28.6% of females and around 29.7 of males wish to have their tattoo removed, while more than 35% of the age group of 18 to 21 who have been inked, regret their tattoos.”

“A wide range of techniques, such as laser therapy, pulsed light therapy, dermabrasion, plastic surgery and chemical peels, are used for tattoo removal. The majority of these techniques are effective, safe and non-invasive. Thus, the increasing popularity of these techniques coupled with the growing demand for non-invasive procedures is expected to boost the tattoo removal market over the forecast period.”

I didn’t select this topic to push investment in the tattoo removal industry, but just in case you’re interested — the projection is that the business will expand 8.5% by 2026.

Neil Snarr is Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.

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Neil Snarr

Contributing columnist