Had to chuckle last night as I saw someone on Twitter insist that in 50 years tattoos won’t be cool and no one will be getting them anymore.

I happen to know he hasn’t got any, and it seems to me perhaps there’s a bit of projection on his part.

Now, I have six tattoos… [here is one of them]…

… so you could say the same thing about me, but here’s the thing: I actually know my human history. I don’t usually trumpet this too much but I did a few years in the anthropology department and I tend to be somewhat of a history buff, enough to know pretty much every culture has used tattoos for millenia, at least since the Neolithic era over 12000 years ago. It’s probably older than that even, it’s just that we don’t have human skin samples or mummies older than this.

My Celtic and Eastern European ancestors would have been tattooed in their pre-Christian days; tattooing became frowned upon as a pagan practise as Europe was Christianized [and similar prohibitions of old cultural practises also accompanied the rise of Islam in the Middle East], but that’s been the exception, not the rule, for most of our history.

And even where marks were not made permanent, it was always common to paint the body on a temporary basis. Warpaint, henna, woad, etc.

The few that don’t tattoo tend to use scarification [for example, places in Africa where tattoos wouldn’t show up on dark skin], or they tend to be cultures where bodies tend to be covered in clothing so the clothing and other removable ornaments take their place [for example, Christian Europe over the last 1500 years].

Current fads towards cartoon characters and meaningless “tribal” designs aside, tattoos have always been markers of who you are, where you come from, and what you’ve achieved [well, I guess in a way a Tasmanian Devil tattoo still says something about the wearer].

Egyptian mummies have tattoos. We’re finding that almost all Scythians who weren’t poor had tattoos, as you’ll hear in this interview with Professor David Mazierski:

And of course we all know about the Polynesian tattoos, which they’ve been doing for millenia.

I think there might be some ice age humans showing tattoos as well.

Seems we’ve been getting tattooed for many thousands of years, and it also seems to me that cultures which do not tattoo are the exception, not the rule, so it seems rather silly to me to suggest that in a mere 50 years we’ll stop doing something so ingrained in our heritage.

Now, perhaps in 50 years there will be less of the drunken impulse tramp-stamp sort of tattoos, that may well come to pass, and perhaps there will be a phase where tattoos aren’t as popular in mainstream Western culture as they are now [and hey, they aren’t as popular in mainstream Western culture as they were 2500 years ago!], but these things go in cycles, and tattoos will always be around.