tattoo

tattoo, the marking of the skin with punctures into which pigment is rubbed. The word originates from the Tahitian tattau [to mark]. The term is sometimes extended to scarification, which consists of skin incisions into which irritants may be rubbed to produce a permanent raised scar. Tattooing is an ancient practice evidence for it has been found on mummified remains in Europe and South America that are more than 5,000 and 4,500 years old, respectively. The modern method of tattooing employs an electric needle. Puncture tattooing reached its most elaborate and artistic development among the Maori of New Zealand and among the Japanese, who perfected the use of color. It was introduced into Europe by sailors.

In modern Western cultures, tattooing has been alternately regarded as a somewhat vulgar practice and as a sign of high fashion. It has been used by modern states as an instrument of control, as in the identification of criminals and political prisoners it is also used to identify race horses. In medicine, it used primarily in cosmetic surgery, for example, to remove birthmarks by injecting a pigment of the color of the natural skin. Tattoos may be removed by a slow, difficult process.

Tattooing has been banned in some areas for health reasons unclean needles can transmit hepatitis or HIV, the virus leading to AIDS. The Old Testament enjoins the Israelites against the practice, it was forbidden by Muhammad, and a Roman Catholic council condemned it in 787. For the significance of tattooing and scarification, see body-marking .

See C. R. Sanders, Customizing the Body (1989) J. Caplan, ed., Written on the Body (2000).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.