Traditional Maori Tattoo of New Zealand

Tattoo patterns and art on the face and body differed from one Polynesian island group to the next. By Kim MartinsHistorian Introduction Te Papa Tongawera (or simply Te Papa) is New Zealand’s innovative national museum situated near the foreshore of beautiful Wellington harbour. Te Papa Tongawera means “container of treasures” in Te Reo Maori, which is the indigenous language[…]

A New Generation Is Reviving Indigenous Tattooing

People in Arctic and Northwest Coast communities are uncovering the therapeutic history of tattoos. By Joshua Rapp Learn To celebrate her graduation from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Alaska Native Studies program in 2012, Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone got a tattoo. Tahbone is Inupiat, an Alaska Native people, and the design was a traditional Inupiat pattern:[…]

The Body as a Map: A History of Body Modification

People have long made their skin into canvases that convey rich personal, spiritual, or ritual meanings in specific cultural contexts. By Dr. Djuke VeldhuisAnthropologist By Dr. Matthew Gwynfryn ThomasData Scientist and Anthropologist For decades, two mummies lay in the British Museum concealing a secret. The ancient Egyptian pair, nicknamed Gebelein Man A and Gebelein Woman,[…]

Indelible Ink: The Deep History of Tattoo Removal

While contemporary laser removal techniques are only around forty years old, efforts to erase or rewrite tattoos are much, much older. In 1681, after several months of raids on Spanish settlements, a group of English pirates traipsed across Panama on their way to the Atlantic. An accident involving gunpowder had left the buccaneers’ surgeon, Lionel Wafer,[…]

Ancient Tonga Tattoo Tools May Illustrate Birth of Polynesian Body Art

The tools, called “bone combs,” resemble hair combs with their grooved edges. By Amy Held Tattooing goes back millennia and spans cultures, as evidenced by mummified remains, yet many details of the body modification’s origins have been shrouded in mystery. Now an ancient bone tattoo kit from the Pacific island nation of Tonga is providing researchers[…]

The Ambulatory Archive: Santa Muerte Tattoos as Historical Sources

Historians have often neglected tattoos as a source, as artifacts that shed light upon society. In Christopher Nolan’s film “Memento,” the main character, Leonard Shelby, suffers from amnesia. To trigger his memories—both real and imagined—he uses a jarring mnemonic device: tattoos, webbed across his body, reminding him of his mission of revenge. Outside the movie[…]