Iceman Ötzi has put the argument, of the oldest tattoo ever, to bed. Finally! Or, well, for now anyways. Ötzi has 61 tattoos and is European. He died around 3250 BC.
For a longtime, Ötzi had competition for the oldest tattoos, from a South American Chinchorro mummy. However, it has been proven the Ötzi is older.
Ötzi was actually the underdog, as far as the scientific community was concerned. Researchers were almost certain he was younger. But ol’ Ötzi showed them.
The tattoos themselves are mainly lines, groups of lines and crosses. Researchers believe that they were created by rubbing charcoal into fine incisions on the skin. They are believed to have been for therapeutic rather than decorative reasons.
It has been difficult for anyone to ascertain exactly how tattooing evolved, because it is hard to know how they were created and for what reason, or even if implements were used in the process.
What is certain, is that there are 100s of ancient tattooed specimen. While it is agreed now that Ötzi is the oldest, there are many more that have been found throughout the world, including Russia, China and Egypt.
It is a good chance that Ötzi’s title will be superseded by an older specimen. Researchers are also hopeful that they will continue to piece together the origins of tattooing, and find this interesting art form’s true origin.
“Apart from the historical implications of our paper, we shouldn’t forget the cultural roles tattoos have played over millennia,” Lars Krutak, who was involved in the research of Ötzi, told Smithsonian Science. “Cosmetic tattoos—like those of the Chinchorro mummy—and therapeutic tattoos—like those of the Iceman—have been around for a very long time. This demonstrates to me that the desire to adorn and heal the body with tattoo is a very ancient part of our human past and culture.”