The History Of Tattoo Ink

Tattoo ink has changed over the years, from prehistoric ice men to many tribes using roots and ashes to modern-day science of some of today’s inks.

Egyptians began ink tattooing as far back as 5,000 years ago. Unlike other cultures, Egyptians limited the practice of tattooing to women.  Female mummies who bore tattoos were found in burial sites reserved for women of high social status.

Tattoo Ink Pigment History ImageIn the Nubian tradition, men and women were tattooed, men for protection in war, and women for blessings and protection during pregnancy. A dark pigment, usually soot, would be mixed with a woman’s breast milk or oil and would be applied to the wound for color.

In October, 1991, Otzi the ice man a five thousand-year old tattooed man made the headlines of newspapers all over the world when his frozen body was discovered on a mountain between Austria and Italy. He had apparently been hunting and trapped  in a snowstorm as he tried to return home.

Together with the body were clothing, a bow and arrows, a bronze axe and flint for making fire.The skin is of great interest because it bears several tattoos: a cross on the inside of the left knee, six straight lines 15 centimeters long above the kidneys and many parallel lines on the ankles. Otzi the ice man” is the best preserved corpse of that period ever found. His skin had a total of 57 tattoo markings.

Early tattooing was done with simple pigments that were readily available from nature. Carbon and ash from fires were probably the earliest materials used for creating black colors under the skin. This primitive method involved pricking the skin and rubbing the soot into the wound.

A couple thousand years later, A ancient Roman physician named Aetius wrote down his recipe for his new tattoo ink. It was a lot more complicated than the simple carbon markings Otzi had on his body.

His ingredients were:

 1 pound of pine bark

 2 oz. of corroded bronze with vinegar

 2 oz. of insect eggs

 1 oz. of iron sulfate

Tattoo Ink History ImageThese ingredients were soaked in water and leek or kurrat juice and then rubbed into pricks made in the skin.

So what makes today’s tattoo inks different?

Modern tattoo ink commonly uses non-reactive substances such as witch hazel, pure distilled water, ethyl alcohol or glycerin as a suspension for the pigment particles. These pigments are from many sources including iron oxides, metal salts, and plastics.

The inks can be made in a much more sterile environment and many reputable ink companies now use lab testing and seek out the most natural ingredients they can use. The FDA does not at this time require testing of tattoo inks and there has been little research done on how toxic tattoo inks actually could be.

So you may want to ask your tattoo artist what is in his or her ink before your next tattoo, you never know…..

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