The History of Tattooing and Modification


Body modification, in simplest terms, is the permanent or semi-permanent alteration of one's body for ritualistic, aesthetic, medicinal, or personal reasons. Modification has been dated back to over 5,000 years ago when in 1991, scientists discovered the body of a tattooed and modified mummy in the Alps on the Australian-Italian border. This discovery proved how since the beginning of time, humans have been searching for ways to express our individuality, heal our minds and bodies, change our appearance, honor loved ones, mark milestones in our lives, and grow spiritually. 

Although modern definition of modification is usually associated with tattooing, piercing, scarification, tongue splitting, and suspension-these are not the only ways for a person to modify themselves. Hair coloring, cutting, and dreading, nail extensions, exercise, dieting, and plastic surgery are all forms of body modification. The earliest forms of modification included tattoos, body piercing, and scarification. These early forms have only grown into more extreme measures of modifications seen in society today. 

We will explore the various forms of early modification in this section, as well as the development and motivation of body modification over the last few decades. 


 The History of Tattooing 


Woman getting tattooed circa 1920


The earliest evidence of tattoos dates back almost 6,000 years ago, when a mummy called Ötzi was discovered in the Alps with various tattoos on his body. Although scientists can not pinpoint the meaning of the tattoos on Ötzi, they have some speculation. It seemed as though his tattoos were spiritual and healing symbols in various parts of his body. From there, scientists have been able to discover that tattoos were present through all of history. Tattoos were shown to be an exclusive practice to females in ancient Egypt. What was once previously dismissed as a practice of low status women in Egypt, had been discovered to be quite the opposite when a mummy of a high status Priestess named Amunet was found with many tattoos on her body. In ancient Egypt, women were mostly tattooed as protection during pregnancy and childbirth. The placement of the tattoos on the abdomen, thighs, and breast were symbolic of the methods used in mummifying where beads were placed over an abdomen to "keep everything in".