Tribal Tattoos History and Symbolism Information page

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Maori Facial Tattoo Design

It all started with the Sun...the Sun God...every culture.

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&  Celtic Tattoo


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In recent years Tribal Tattoos have enjoyed a revival.We specialize in Historical and modern Tribal Tattoos of all styles.

Since the dawn of humanity , Tattoos have been made onto both sexes to decorate, enhance, and modify the skin we inherit at birth. Some Tattoos are self-motivated expressions of personal freedom and uniqueness. Most, however, have to do with traditions that mark a person as a member or nonmember of the local group, or express religious, magical, or spiritual beliefs and personal convictions. We all have a undeniable need to belong, this is the most basic Tribal need, and the reason for the Tribal Tattoos renewed power. Tribal Tattoos have a simple appeal : we like the way they look on us, It reinforces a positive feeling about ourselves and connects us some how to an element of mystery and ancient activity.

The practice of skin ornamentation is certainly as widespread and as ancient as Man himself. It may well have been one of his first conscious acts involving tools which separated him from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is thought by some that ancient mans first primordial feeling when he found himself without great amounts of body hair was to take a blackened sharp stick from the fire and decorate ( Tattoo ) his body, in this way he became camouflaged or protected as the animals were.






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As the origins of art are rooted in early cave paintings, so positive proof of Tattooing is obtained from recent discoveries of ancient frozen mummified remains of early man that are covered in Tattoos. Oldest Tattooed body known to date is that of a Bronze Age man who died over 5000 years ago. He was found frozen intact in an Italian glazier. Researchers where startled at close examination he was found to have both arms, legs and torso covered with elaborate Tattoos representing mythical creatures. 15000 BC ice age rock carvings show Tattooed figures, 4200 BC  Egyptian mummies wear Tattoos. Archeologically validated works of art showing Tattoos started to appear about 30000 years ago. One must not forget that, with the exemption of mummies, all art on the Human body disappears into the fire or ashes along with its bearer.

Western culture now has a widespread resurgence and acceptance of the Tribal practice of Tattooing. More and more research on Tribal people, their arts, Tattoos, and lifestyles, and more and more available images of Tattooed people have led to western peoples interest in Tribal Tattoos. Pretechnological designs (i.e.,Black Tribal) give the wearer a link to the origins of all present human society, a past Tribal culture wherein the Tattoo had an inner meaning to the wearer , not just a modern symbol of our present culture such as a Mickey Mouse Tattoo.

The emergence and / or renaissance of the ancient Tribal Art of Tattooing is by no means restricted to the present generation of young men and women in western countries. After having been outlawed and suppressed for a century or two , these ancient and traditional arts are also being revived by young native peoples of all tribes.


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Tattooing is a widely practiced method of body decoration in which markings such as signs , symbols , and letters are applied to the body by puncturing the skin’s outer layer and inserting color into it. Whether ancient or modern techniques are used, the skin is punctured with a sharp instrument, now usually an electric moved needle. In earlier times and other cultures , Tattooing required one or more needles fixed to a stick and driven into the skin by slight tapping, the very process that has led to the term Tattoo via the early Polynesian sound -equivalent of the tapping action: Tau Tau.

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We can help you further at your visit to our Tattoo Shop with more in-depth explanations and advice regarding Tribal Tattoo symbolism and how a custom design may look on your skin. The following are some of the Tribal style Tattoos that are available: Native Indian, North American Indian, Pacific Northwest American Indian, Indigenous, African, Egyptian, Mayan, Aztec, Hawaiian, Samoan, Maori, South Pacific, Micronesian, Polynesian, Melanesian, New Zealand, Eskimo, Inuit, Wiccan, Pagan, Gothic, Tahitian, Borneo, Oceanic, Oriental, Asian, Japanese, Chinese, Buddhist, Tibetan, India, Hindu, Deities, Aboriginal, Fraternal, Military, Heraldic, Ritual, Amulets, Talisman, Sacred, Mythological, Magical, Alchemy, Mythic, Folk Art, Astrology, Astronomy, Neo- Tribal, Contemporary Tribal, Abstract Tribal, Geometric Tribal, Traditional Tribal, and our own huge collection of custom one of a kind American Stylized Tribal.

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Skin&Ink Tattoo magazine article about Captain Bret's Celtic Tattoos

My article and picture in Harley Davidson 100 year Anniversary Book


Most native peoples of the Americas practiced tattooing to some extent. It served a variety of purposes depending on location, gender, and the state of intertribal relations.

A variety of methods were used to create tattoos. Among the Sioux, for example, women would draw a circle or line on a person's skin with clay, punch the design with an awl, and then rub blue clay over it. By the time the clay was dry it had penetrated beneath the awl holes. Among California natives an older woman would scratch the skin of a subject and rub charcoal dust or plant juice into the scratches for color. Following contact with Europeans, the Ojibwas drew on the skin with a stick dipped in gunpowder dissolved in water. The figure was then pricked with needles dipped in vermillion and the skin was seared with punkwood to prevent festering. The area would then be treated with an antiseptic herbal wash. These processes often took a number of days.

Tattoos held different meanings for different tribes. In the Northwest, from California to Washington, tattoos identified a woman's village. In Alaska certain tattoos indicated that a man had killed an enemy in battle, and among the Yokuts of California tattoos marked the location of a person's supernatural power. As is the case in other parts of the world, Native American tattooing reflected (and reflects) a variety of concerns and attitudes related to the human body.

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Mystic River Tattoo

Sean Penn Back Tattoo

Tattoo that Captain Bret Designed that was used in Clint Eastwood's movie"MYSTIC RIVER" staring Sean Penn as the character "Jimmy Markum" a South Boston Irish mobster with this celtic styled cross Tattooed on his back

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The tribal style originates from the old tribes like the Celtic, the Maori tribes, the Haida tribes, the inhabitants of the Marquesan and the tribes of Borneo. What a lot of people now recognize as Tribal is in fact a new style: New Tribalism are the remains of the old Tribal style. Particularly the Borneo style shows a lot of resemblance with New Tribalism.

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Concerning all Tribal styles the division in black and white is important. Not only of what has been tattood must have a good shape but also the parts that have been left blanc must also be well shaped. Besides it is more beautiful that the shapes follow your body contours. The balance with Tribals and Ornamentals are very important. That is the reason why it is so important to have a tattoo done by someone who understands the different styles.

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The Celtic tribes
The old Celts lived mainly in England and Ireland (before also in France). Round the year 1000 the Celtic civilization gradually disappeared. Typical of this style is interlace, spirals, dogs, birds and humans

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The Maori tribes
The Maori originate from New Zealand and have traditional facial tattoos (moko) and special leg tattoos. This tattoo style, that shows a lot of resemblance with the wood carving of the Maoris, is typical for its spirals. Under influence of the missionaries the traditional Maori tattoos disappeared round 1900. In those days the Maori were hunted for their (tattooed) head as a trophy.

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The facial tattoos of the Maori were individually designed and there for never copied from each other. According to the legend the facial tattoos were made to be recognized by friends and family once deceased. According to the story the light goes right through you when you are dead, but your tattoos show who you are. Since 1980-1990 there is an uprising of the tattoo phenomenon under the Maori in New Zealand. For the Maori a tattoo means inner strength and mastering this inner strength.

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The Haida tribes
The Haida (Indian tribes) lived on the Northwest coast of America. This style of tattoos, which shows a lot of resemblance with the woodcarving of the Haida, thunderbirds, beavers, bears, fish and woodcarving are very common. The pictures are mainly about the Indian astrology. The Indians believed that you partly take over the strength of the animal when having such a tattoo. The Haida style is a forceful, masculine style.

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The Marquesan tribes
The Marquesan style originates from the inhabitants of the Marquesan Islands in Polynesia. These islanders used to be completely covered with tattoos. Their bodies showed picture stories, for other tribes to recognize who you were, where you were from and what you did. In the entire Polynesian area the tattoo culture always has been present, everyone was tattood. The word tattoo is derived from the word 'tatau' that comes from this area. The Marquesan style is mainly based on the divinity Tiki, who is always portrayed with his eyes closed because he smells danger before he sees it. Images that are used a lot in this style are: shells (wealth), shark teeth (protection) lizards, whales, turtles, fish hooks, and so on. The Marquesan style is a form of language in symbols.

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Borneo is situated above Indonesia. In former times the headhunters (from the Iban- and Dayak tribes) had tattoos for protection and as proof of their achievement. That is how one obtained a spiral in the form of a flower on the front of the shoulders when making a long trip, but also for cutting someone's head there was a particular symbol. The headhunters protected the rest of the tribe that lived in trees. They themselves lived on the ground and by the looks of their tattoos you could see what they did and what they have been through. Typical for this style are images of scorpions, flowers, dogs, dragons and spirals.

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Tattoos are almost as old as mankind. It is believed that the first tattooing happened accidentally, with people falling or stepping into pigment-carrying, sharp instruments or materials, like e.g. sharp, charcoaled branches from leftover fireplaces or wooden spears/arrowheads hardened in fire. This tends to leave trapped pigment in the dermis, such accidents are by the way the major reason for pigment removal research even in our days.

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It is easy to see why people would make the connection and survival of bad wounds may even have helped the magical or religious meaning of tattoos into existence The current first proven incident of a tattoo dates back 4,000 years B.C. a traveler was found in Italy near Austria, preserved in the permafrost of a glacier. Carbon dating and artifacts facts found near him suggest that he is over 5,300 years old. The skin bears a cross behind one knee and a series of lines above his kidneys. This has given rise to the speculation that the man was a shaman or otherwise holy member of his clan, as for millennia tattoos were reserved in many if not most cultures to members of the castes of priest or secret sects Ancient Egyptian mummies, as well as clay figurines bear tattoos, this dates to between 4,000 and 3,000 years old. The tattoos were applied by puncture with a needle or other sharp instrument steeped in pigment, much like the prisoner tattoos of later times. The practice traveled from Egypt across the world, Egypt - an empire with traffic into most countries it bordered - was in contact with Greece, Persia, Central Asia and Arabia and spread tattoos along the main merchant routes. From Southern China the practice spread along the silk route.

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The Ainu, western Asian nomads brought tattooing to Japan when they crossed over to the Japanese islands, for them tattoos firmly belong to the realm of religion and magic. The Japanese themselves rejected the religious meaning of tattoos, and turned towards the graphical and ornamental of the practice. To the day the technique and style of Japanese Tattooists stands out in design and craft. From Japan, tattoos spread to the Philippines and Pacific Islands. The Polynesians carried the tattoo culture across the Pacific Islands to New Zealand and are probably responsible for the largest dissemination of the practice.

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Their style still survives among the Maoris and the inhabitants of some of the Pacific Islands, strict regulations and ceremonies accompany the procedure. Tattooing traveled to America either via the large Polynesian migration, or across the northern land/ice bridge with Siberian tribes who learned tattooing from the Ainu. Mayas, Incas and Aztecs tattooed and the practice had an important role in their religious rituals. The fact that the European cadaver mentioned above is older than any Egyptian source may or may not put a different light on where tattoos originated, but the Iberians, who preceded the Celtic tribes, wore tattoos. The Gauls, Teutonic tribes, the Picts and Greek tattooed, the Romans branded or tattooed criminals and slaves. Invaders (Norseman, Saxons, etc.) brought more refined and artistic tattoos to the British Isles.

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It was usual for warriors and sailors to have their tribal symbols tattooed. This usage still survives with some aristocratic families. Pope Hadrian banned this as a barbaric custom in the 8th century. For roughly 4 centuries after that there was no mention of tattooing, and because of the interdiction ordained by Rome, the warriors remained un-Tattooed. After the Norman invasion there was little evidence of tattooing in Europe until much later. Captain Cook brought news of the practice and the word to Europe after seeing tattoos performed 1771 in Tahiti. Cook refers to the operation called "tattaw", using for the first time the word "tattawing", before tattooing has been called painting or staining.

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Meanings of Tattoos

          What is art?  Art is created by emotions, often represented by symbols to convey meaning.  What is a symbol? You may defines a symbol as, "a picture or image that tells a story without using words." It has been suggested that symbols, such as cave paintings and carvings, were man's earliest forms of communication. Tattoos are symbols and are known to define people’s deep passions, beliefs and identity. 

          We have many ways of modern communication in our present time; however, symbolism still plays a very significant role in our daily lives. Some symbols have deep significance to us or to others, depending on beliefs and personal lifestyle.  People endure the pain of getting a tattoo because it has significance or meaning. 

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          When looking for a tattoo design, the question of symbolism often comes into play. If you've wondered what the meanings are to many commonly seen designs, you're not alone. The world is full of symbols - ancient symbols, religious symbols, patriotic symbols, symbols of mourning and the list goes on. A popular trend in our day and age is getting various Chinese symbols tattooed.  When people look at it they may not understand the specific meaning as it is foreign, but the individual will always carry that special meaning within themselves.   A few other examples of tattoos and their meanings are the following:

-Portrait tattoos are usually created when someone is commemorating an honorary person.  In this category faces of rock stars find competition with young infants. 

-Religious tattoos show others what a person relation of God and Spirits is.  They also show others ones moral conduct, attitudes and beliefs. 

One of the greatest achievements of man has been that of writing. Today the human body has become a canvas that can carry messages to others proclaiming their morals, beliefs and social values

Skin&Ink Tattoo magazine article about Captain Bret's Celtic Tattoos

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          Many people may be interested in knowing the historic symbolism behind a particular picture, and sometimes we want to make sure we avoid designs that symbolize something we do not believe in or condone.   People get tattoos for their religious beliefs, their family, culture or history, their teams, tribes or spouses, their favorite sports, activities or for the art of it.  

          People frequently get tattoos during a special time in their life.  For an example, many people go through the ritual of getting a tattoo while on vacation.  It is widely known that many spring breakers paint up their bodies for life, as to remember that time, such as getting a souvenir.   


          Today, tattoos come in all shapes and sizes; in rare cases people have their entire skin consumed by ink. Getting tattoos has become a trend, as the legal age is 18 to get one, many teenagers rush at the moment.  Tattoos are extremely creative.  Individuals can design their own, or select anything in the world to put on their body.  Tattoos are works of art, as they are detailed, or simple, whatever a heart could desire.  In any case, tattoos now appeal to many people from all walks of life because they contain special meaning for individuals.  

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We do ALL Tattoo styles, NOT JUST Tribal & Celtic

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A Tattoo is design in ink or some other pigment, usually decorative or symbolic, placed permanently under the skin. In technical terms, tattooing is micro-pigment implantation. Tattoos are a type of body modification.



The origin of the word Tattoo is usually traced to the Tahitian tatu or tatau, which means to mark or strike (the latter referring to traditional methods of applying the designs).

The word "tattoo" is now the most common word to describe the art and process throughout the English-speaking world. "Tattoo" is commonly used by speakers of other languages as well, even when there are native words that mean the same thing. Sometimes different words are used for different types of art or different procedures. In Japanese, for example, the word used for traditional designs or those that are applied using traditional methods is irezumi, while "tattoo" is used for non-Japanese designs.

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Most tattoo enthusiasts refer to tattoos as art and to Tattooists (less often "tattooers") as artists. This usage is rapidly gaining support, with mainstream art galleries holding exhibitions of tattoo designs and photographs of tattoos.

Generic (that is, not custom-drawn) tattoo designs that are mass produced and sold to tattoo artists and studios are called flash. "Tattoo Flash" is also the name of an American tattoo magazine.

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It is impossible to give exact figures since there is no reporting on the number of tattoos performed, but the evidence suggests that tattooing (along with piercing and some other forms of body modification) is rapidly gaining in popularity in many parts of the world, and is gaining mainstream acceptance in many areas, particularly in the west.

Many celebrities, mostly those in the music industry, wear tattoos, but there are many others who have tattoos but generally keep them covered. In some areas, tattoos still have a largely negative image. This is particularly true in East Asian countries and regions, where tattoos are still generally associated with criminality in the public's mind; therefore those who choose to be tattooed in such countries usually keep their tattoos covered for fear of reprisal. For example, many businesses such as gyms, hot springs and recreational facilities in Japan still ban people with visible tattoos.

It has been suggested that a majority of prisoners in US prisons have at least one tattoo. It is said that most triad members in Hong Kong have a tattoo of a black dragon on the left bicep and one of a white tiger on the right; in fact, many people in Hong Kong use "left a black dragon, right a white tiger" as a euphemism for a triad member. It is widely believed that one of the initiation rites in becoming a triad member is silently withstanding the pain of receiving a tattoo the size of one's entire back in one sitting, usually performed in the traditional "hand-poked" style. Tattoos, particularly full traditional body suits, are still popularly associated with the yakuza (mafia) in Japan; in reality, however, many yakuza members are choosing not to be tattooed to avoid this very stigma.

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Tattooing has been a practice of almost every known people. The Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan, wore unique facial tattoos. Tattooing was widespread among Polynesian peoples, and in the Philippines, Borneo, Samoa, Africa, Japan, and China.

Tattooing has been a Eurasian practice since Neolithic times. "Otzi," the "iceman" discovered frozen in the Tyrol and dated circa 3300 BC was tattooed, as was the mummified male found in the Pasaryk burial whose body was tattooed with stylized animal designs. In the Steppes, other natural mummies up to 7000 years old have been found to have tattoos.


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Tattooing has also been featured prominently in one of the Four Classic Novels in Chinese literature, Water Margin, in which at least two of the 108 characters, Shi Jun and Yan Qing, were described as having tattoos covering nearly the whole of their bodies. In addition, Chinese legend has it that the mother of Yue Fei, the most famous general of the Song Dynasty, tattooed the words on his back with her sewing needle right before he left to join the army, reminding him to "repay his country with total loyalty".

Europeans rediscovered tattooing during the exploration of the South Pacific under Captain James Cook in the 1770s, and sailors were particularly identified with tattoos in European culture until after World War I.

The "modern" electric tattoo machine is fundamentally the same machine invented by Samuel O'Reilly in 1891, which was based on an electric engraving pen invented by Thomas Edison.

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Tattoos are more popular now than at any time in recorded history. Current estimates have one in seven or over 39 million people in North America who have at least one tattoo.

It is arguably claimed that tattooing has existed since around 12,000 BC. The purpose of tattooing has varied from culture to culture and its place on the time line. But there are commonalties that prevail form the earliest known tattoos to those being done on college students on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley.

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Skin&Ink Tattoo magazine article about Captain Bret's Celtic Tattoos

Tattoos have always had an important role in ritual and tradition. In Borneo, women tattooed symbols on their forearm indicating their particular skill. If a woman wore a symbol indicating she was a skilled weaver, her status as prime marriageable material was increased. Tattoos around the wrist and fingers were believed to ward away illness. Throughout history tattoos have signified membership in a clan or society. Even today groups like the Hells Angels tattoo their particular group symbol. TV and movies have used the idea of a tattoo indication membership in a secret society numerous times. It has been believed that the wearer of an image calls the spirit of that image. The ferocity of a tiger would belong to the tattooed person. That tradition holds true today shown by the proliferation of images of tigers, snakes, and bird of prey.

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In recorded history, the earliest tattoos can be found in Egypt during the time of the construction of the great pyramids (It undoubtedly started much earlier). When the Egyptians expanded their empire, the art of tattooing spread as well. The civilizations of Crete, Greece, Persia, and Arabia picked up and expanded the art form. Around 2000 BC tattooing spread to China.

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Click for Tribal Tattoos Photo Gallery

The Greeks used tattooing for communication among spies. Markings identified the spies and showed their rank. Romans marked criminals and slaves. This practice is still carried on today. The Ainu people of western Asia used tattooing to show social status. Girls coming of age were marked to announce their place in society, as were the married women. The Ainu are noted for introducing tattoos to Japan where it developed into a religious and ceremonial rite. In Borneo, women were the Tattooists. It was a cultural tradition. They produced designs indicating the owner’s station in life and the tribe he belonged to. Kayan women had delicate arm tattoos which looked like lacy gloves. Dayak warriors who had "taken a head" had tattoos on their hands. The tattoos garnered respect and assured the owners status for life. Polynesians developed tattoos to mark tribal communities, families, and rank. They brought their art to New Zealand and developed a facial style of tattooing called Moko which is still being used today. There is evidence that the Mayan, Incas, and Aztecs used tattooing in the rituals. Even the isolated tribes in Alaska practiced tattooing, their style indicating it was learned from the Ainu.

In the west, early Britons used tattoos in ceremonies. The Danes, Norse, and Saxons tattooed family crests (a tradition still practiced today). In 787 AD, Pope Hadrian banned tattooing. It still thrived in Britain until the Norman Invasion of 1066. The Normans disdained tattooing. It disappeared from Western culture from the 12th to the 16th centuries.

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While tattooing diminished in the west, it thrived in Japan. At first, tattoos were used to mark criminals. First offenses were marked with a line across the forehead. A second crime was marked by adding an arch. A third offense was marked by another line. Together these marks formed the Japanese character for "dog". It appears this was the original "Three strikes, you're out" law. In time, the Japanese escalated the tattoo to an aesthetic art form. The Japanese body suit originated around 1700 as a reaction to strict laws concerning conspicuous consumption. Only royalty were allowed to wear ornate clothing. As a result of this, the middle class adorned themselves with elaborate full body tattoos. A highly tattooed person wearing only a loin cloth was considered well dressed, but only in the privacy of their own home.

William Dampier is responsible for re-introducing tattooing to the west. He was a sailor and explorer who traveled the South Seas. In 1691 he brought to London a heavily tattooed Polynesian named Prince Giolo, Known as the Painted Prince. He was put on exhibition, a money making attraction, and became the rage of London. It had been 600 years since tattoos had been seen in Europe and it would be another 100 years before tattooing would make it mark in the West.

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In the late 1700s, Captain Cook made several trips to the South Pacific. The people of London welcomed his stories and were anxious to see the art and artifacts he brought back. Returning form one of this trips, he brought a heavily tattooed Polynesian named Omai. He was a sensation in London. Soon, the upper class were getting small tattoos in discreet places. For a short time tattooing became a fad.

What kept tattooing from becoming more widespread was its slow and painstaking procedure. Each puncture of the skin was done by hand the ink was applied. In 1891, Samuel O'Reilly patented the first electric tattooing machine. It was based on Edison's electric pen which punctured paper with a needle point. The basic design with moving coils, a tube and a needle bar, are the components of today's tattoo gun. The electric tattoo machine allowed anyone to obtain a reasonably priced and readily available tattoo. As the average person could easily get a tattoo, the upper classes turned away from it.

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By the turn of the century, tattooing had lost a great deal of credibility. Tattooists worked the sleazier sections of town. Heavily tattooed people traveled with circuses and "freak Shows". Betty Brodbent traveled with Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1930s and was a star attraction for years.

The cultural view of tattooing was so poor for most of the century that tattooing went underground. Few were accepted into the secret society of artists and there were no schools to study the craft. There were no magazines or associations. Tattoo suppliers rarely advertised their products. One had to learn through the scuttlebutt where to go and who to see for quality tattoos.

The birthplace of the American style tattoo was Chatham Square in New York City. At the turn of the century it was a seaport and entertainment center attracting working-class people with money. Samuel O'Reilly came from Boston and set up shop there. He took on an apprentice named Charlie Wagner. After O'Reilly's death in 1908, Wagner opened a supply business with Lew Alberts. Alberts had trained as a wallpaper designer and he transferred those skills to the design of tattoos. He is noted for redesigning a large portion of early tattoo flash art.

While tattooing was declining in popularity across the country, in Chatham Square in flourished. Husbands tattooed their wives with examples of their best work. They played the role of walking advertisements for their husbands' work. At this time, cosmetic tattooing became popular, blush for cheeks, colored lips, and eyeliner. With World War I, the flash art images changed to those of bravery and wartime icons.

In the 1920s, with prohibition and then the depression, Chatham Square lost its appeal. The center for tattoo art moved to Coney Island. Across the country, Tattooists opened shops in areas that would support them, namely cities with military bases close by, particularly naval bases. Tattoos were known as travel markers. You could tell where a person had been by their tattoos.

After World War II, tattoos became further denigrated by their associations with Marlon Brando type bikers and Juvenile delinquents. Tattooing had little respect in American culture. Then, in 1961 there was an outbreak of hepatitis and tattooing was sent reeling on its heels.

Skin&Ink Tattoo magazine article about Captain Bret's Celtic Tattoos

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Though most tattoo shops had sterilization machines, few used them. Newspapers reported stories of blood poisoning, hepatitis, and other diseases. The general population held tattoo parlors in disrepute. At first, the New York City government gave the tattoos an opportunity to form an association and self-regulate, but Tattooists are independent and they were not able to organize themselves. A health code violation went into effect and the tattoo shops at Times Square and Coney Island were shut down. For a time, it was difficult to get a tattoo in New York. It was illegal and tattoos had a terrible reputation. Few people wanted a tattoo. The better shops moved to Philadelphia and New Jersey where it was still legal.

In the late 1960s, the attitude towards tattooing changed. Much credit can be given to Lyle Tuttle. He is a handsome, charming, interesting and knows how to use the media. He tattooed celebrities, particularly women. Magazines and television went to Lyle to get information about this ancient art form.

Today, tattooing is making a strong comeback. It is more popular and accepted than it has ever been. All classes of people seek the best tattoo artists. This rise in popularity has placed Tattooists in the category of "fine artist". The Tattooist has garnered a respect not seen for over 100 years. Current artists combine the tradition of tattooing with their personal style creating unique and phenomenal body art. With the addition of new inks, tattooing has certainly reached a new plateau.

We know that almost all cultures throughout history have subscribed to some form of body art or body manipulation, and for many, this included tattoos.


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Over the last 150 years, archaeologists have unearthed several mummified remains marked with tattoos:

In 1991, the frozen, well-preserved body of a Siberian "Iceman" was discovered in the Alps. More than 5,000 years old, the body had 57 tattoos.

In 1948, a Russian archaeologist who was excavating a group of tombs found the mummy of a Scythian Chieftain. On the mummy's right arm, there were tattoos of a donkey, a mountain ram, and two deer. As well, there were tattoos of four running rams that encircled his shin.

In 1891, archaeologists discovered the mummified remains of an Egyptian priestess named Amunet, who likely lived some time between 2160 BC and 1994 BC. Her body had tattoos on its arms, legs, and below the belly button.

In Japan, scientists have discovered clay figurines more than 3,000 years old painted with markings that resemble tattoos.

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During the time of the Old Testament, much of the pagan world was practicing the art of tattooing as a means of deity worship. This, of course, necessitated a negative response from Israel, which attempted to separate itself from the adoration of false gods:

"You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the LORD." - Leviticus 19:28

Biblical scholar M.W. Thomson suggests, however, that Moses favored tattoos. Thomson speculates that Moses introduced tattoos as a way to commemorate the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. In his 1859 study, Thomson suggests that Moses believed the prohibition above applied only to heathen, pagan images.

Just before the birth of Christ, Roman writers such as Virgil, Seneca, and Galenus reported that many slaves and criminals were tattooed.

Post Biblical

Early in the fourth century, when Constantine became Roman Emperor and rescinded the prohibition on Christianity, he also banned tattooing on face, which was common for convicts, soldiers, and gladiators. Constantine believed that the human face was a representation of the image of God and should not be disfigured or defiled.

It is documented that a monk who lived in the late fifth century had a tattoo on his thigh that read: "Manim, the disciple of Jesus Christ."

Procopius of Caesarea, who lived during the first half of the sixth century and wrote number of official histories, once reported that many Christians were tattooed, on their arms, with a cross or the name of Christ.

Charles MacQuarrie, in his work, "Insular Celtic Tattooing: History, Myth, and Metaphor", details how "marks" that are mentioned in the Life of Saint Brigit may have been tattoos. He also suggests that Celtic Christians approved of some, but not all, tattoos.

At the council of Calcuth in Northumberland, the 786 Report of the Papal Legates mentioned two types of tattooing: one of pagan superstition, which doesn't aid any Christian, and another for the sake of God, which provides certain (unnamed) rewards.

Crusaders, arriving in the Holy Land, often tattooed a small cross on their hands or arms as a sign that they desired a Christian burial.


Today, people commonly choose to be tattooed for cosmetic, religious and magical reasons, as well as as a symbol of belonging to or identification with particular groups. Some Maori males still choose to wear intricate moko on their faces. Throughout history people have also been forcibly tattooed for a variety of reasons. The best known is the ka-tzetnik identification system for Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

European sailors were known to tattoo the crucifixion on their backs to prevent flogging as a punishment.

Tattoos are also placed on animals, though very rarely for decorative reasons. Pets, show animals, thoroughbred horses and livestock are sometimes tattooed with identification marks, and certain of their body parts (for example, noses) have also been tattooed to prevent sunburn. Such tattoos are performed by veterinarians and the animals are anaesthetized to prevent the sensation of pain and ensure their safety.


Some tribal cultures still create tattoos by cutting designs into the skin and rubbing the resulting wound with ink, ashes or other agents. This may be an adjunct to scarification. Some cultures create tattooed marks by "tapping" the ink into the skin using sharpened sticks or animal bones. Traditional Japanese tattoos (irezumi) are still "hand-poked," that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel.

The most common method of tattooing in modern times is with an electric tattoo machine. In this procedure, ink is inserted into the skin via a group needles that are soldered onto a bar, which is attached to an oscillating unit. The unit rapidly and repeatedly drives the needles in and out of the skin, usually 50 to 3,000 times a minute.

Tattoo machines operate on an electromagnetic principle (much like an old-fashioned door bell) and are manufactured by many small to mid-sized companies throughout the world.

In prisons, tattoo machines are not available, so machines are cobbled together. Tattoos created under such conditions are frequently painful, and the resulting designs are coarser. There is also significant risk of illness, including such blood-borne diseases as HIV and hepatitis. Prisoners often dismiss these risks in a show of toughness.

Permanent Cosmetics

Permanent cosmetics are tattoos that enhance eyebrows, lips (liner or lipstick), eyes (shadow, mascara), and even moles, usually with natural colours as the designs are intended to resemble makeup. The prices of cosmetic procedures are higher than design tattoos because most states require permanent makeup artists to be licensed aestheticians.

"Natural" tattoos

Workers in coal mines would wind up with characteristic tattoos owing to coal dust getting into wounds.

Temporary tattoos and Mehndi

Temporary tattoos are a type of body sticker. They are sold individually or in packages, and are generally applied to the skin using water to transfer a design on to the surface of the skin. Temporary tattoos safe for people of all ages, are easily removed with soap and water or oil-based creams, and are intended to last from one to several days. Temporary tattoo designs often resemble real tattoo flash, but they are also used for advertising.

The art known as Mehndi, common in Middle Eastern, North African and Asian countries (but particularly associated with India), is the application of intricate patterns and designs on the hands and feet. The designs are usually hand drawn with henna: powdered henna is mixed with coffee or tea, lemon juice (to release the dye) and sugar (for consistency) into a paste which is then applied. The length of time the design will last depends on how long the paste is left on the skin. Most designs last up to two weeks, fading from a dark brown to a light orange before disappearing. So-called 'black henna', which is made by adding PPD (p-Phenylenediamine) to natural henna, in order to achieve a black color, may cause allergic reactions. PPD is very unhealthy and has been known to cause burns.

Mehndi is traditionally applied onto the hands and feet of brides, but there exist traditions in Bangladesh, Kashmir and Sudan where bridegrooms also have Mehndi applied before wedding ceremonies. Mehndi has also become popular, particularly in the West, as a form of temporary body decoration with no symbolic meaning.

Allergic reactions

Allergic reactions to tattoo pigments are rare but not unheard of. People who are sensitive or allergic to certain metals may react to pigments in the skin, causing damage to the epidermis.

People with allergies should consider carefully getting a tattoo because of the risk of anaphylaxis (hypersensitive reaction) and the shock that might occur, which can be life threatening. Some tattoo artists give small tests, by marking a small amount of ink behind the ear to determine if that person has an allergic reaction.

Infection from tattooing in clean and modern tattoo studios is RARE.

Potential infections include everything from surface infections of the skin to staph infections that can cause cardiological damage. People who are susceptible to infection should know the dangers of the abasing of the skin can have and should consult a physician before getting a tattoo.

Following universal precautions also reduces the risk of infection. Shops should appear clean; sinks with hot water and soap should be available in the bathroom as well as in the studio; Tattooers should wash their hands regularly and wear latex gloves; surfaces should be cleaned with disinfectant and floors should appear clean; proper procedures for sterilizing equipment should also be followed strictly.


Deciding where to get a tattoo

The studio must have all of the following:

A reputable artist will:

Membership in professional organizations, or certificates of appreciation/achievement, may imply that the artist is aware of the latest trends in equipment and sterilization. Many of the most notable Tattooists do not belong to any association.


New tattoos are wounds which must be looked after properly. Immediately after completing the tattoo, most Tattooists will cover the area to keep out dirt - sometimes the area is wrapped in cling film in order to incubate the tattoo and draw out any impurities. Most Tattooists will recommend leaving the covering on for several hours or overnight, and then gently washing the area.

Different artists favor different aftercare techniques; the artist who applies the tattoo will give specific instructions for aftercare, and these should be followed carefully to yield the best results.

Tattoos and MRIs

There has been concern about the interaction between MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) procedures and tattoo inks, some of which contain trace metals. It has been claimed that the magnetic fields produced by MRI machines could interact with these metal particles, potentially causing burns or distortions in the image.

Today the majority of professional tattoos do not contain metal particles and therefore there is no concern with MRIs. It is likely that this is an urban myth. The television show Mythbusters tested the theory, and concluded that there is no risk of interaction between tattoo inks and MRIs.

Other Uses

Tattooing is also used in managing wildlife and the livestock industry as a marking technique. Animals are marked with unique symbols or alphanumeric characters for identification. Tattoos may be located anywhere on the animal's body including it's ear (common for small mammals) or inner lip (bears).

Cool facts

We do ALL Tattoo styles, NOT JUST Tribal & Celtic

Captain Bret's Crew here at the Studio



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