Lars Krutak: Telling Stories In Tattoos

21inkedd in Stories

Tattooing is one of the oldest art forms in the world, it has been practiced for thousands of years and continues to do so today.

Of course tattooing has evolved into something rather different from where it started but it's foundations are very much as they have always been. Tattoos are permanent personal pieces of art that can have personal meaning attached to them, it is how it has always been and probably how it always will be.

Dr. Lars Krutak is an American Anthropologist who is famed for his research and writings on tattooing and its historical background. With a special interest in indigenous tattooing Krutak has worked to increase awareness and preservation efforts of indigenous tattoos and document them before they vanish forever!!

Currently working for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History  Krutak recently spoke to the Smithsonian Science News and shared some of his knowledge on historical tattooing and the importance of traditional indigenous tattoos!!

A selection of Otzi's Tattoos
A selection of Otzi's Tattoos

Earliest Evidence Of Tattoos Is 5,300 Years Old!!

"The most ancient evidence of human tattooing is found on the mummified corpse of the 5,300-year-old Neolithic Iceman...the Iceman has a total of 61 tattoos—short lines etched in groups on his lower back and ankles, four lines on the torso above the gall bladder, a cross behind his right knee and two rings around his left wrist" (Krutak)

The Iceman, also called Otzi, is a fascinating insight into the world of ancient tattooing! If you want to know more about Otzi then click here!!  

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Traditional Maori face tattoo
Traditional Maori face tattoo

Were Historical Tattooing Practices Simply Decorative...

"A common myth that continues to be perpetuated in popular and academic peer-reviewed publications is that tribal tattoos were ornamental. Some indigenous peoples did receive tattoos to enhance their physical appearance, but this practice was the exception rather than the rule. Most tattoos identified tribal designation...I see body marking as a kind of biographical language" (Krutak)

Perhaps then much like today some people marked their skin purely for decoration while others marked it with specific reasons in mind...See, us tattooed folks really aren't that different from out ancient ancestors!!

Irezumi has been practiced in Japan for centuries!!
Irezumi has been practiced in Japan for centuries!!

For Every Community There Existed A Different Type Of Tattoo!! 

"Skin-stitching or needle-and-thread tattooing was a technique used across the Arctic and Native North America. Hand-poking, where the design is poked into the skin with a sharp pigment-tipped needle, was a more common method of tattoo application. Today, hand-poked tattoos continue to be given across Indochina and Japan...

...Hand-tapping is perhaps the most ubiquitous traditional technique and indigenous to Oceania, Southeast Asia, and parts of Melanesia (e.g., Papua New Guinea). In some regions of Africa, North America, and Asia, the method of scar tattooing was employed" (Krutak)

As many tattoo enthusiasts know even in the age of the modern electric tattoo machine traditional ways of tattooing by hand are still a common practice. We've seen the rise of the homemade stick and poke, wider popularity in traditional Japanese Irezumi and even contemporary artists hand poking ink!! ...Would you go all out hand poking traditional style or would you stick to an artist and machine??

Photo © Lars Krutak
Photo © Lars Krutak

Traditional Indigenous Tattooing Has Staged A Comeback!

"Most of the tattooing revivals across the indigenous world are focused on cultures where hand-tapping was the norm. The Polynesian renaissance began in the 1970s and reached Hawaii in the 1990s. Hand-tappers in Southeast Asia worked hard to revive tattooing there in the late 1980s and early 1990s" (Krutak)

Krutak himself has been on the receiving end of some indigenous tattooing!!

"I received my first traditional tattoo in 2002, a hand-tapped rosette in a longhouse in Borneo. It took about 4½ hours to complete. But the worst part was not necessarily the pain of the needle" (Krutak)

Lars getting tattooed by hand!!
Lars getting tattooed by hand!!

The understanding of where tattooing has come from and what its roots are is integral to understanding modern tattooing and the path which it follows. Tattoos today are as varied as they have been over the past 5000 years and knowing tattoo history simply makes you love the process even more!!

Tattoos transmit a vast body of information about who were are, where we came from, our desires and fears and who we aspire to be...(Krutak)

To read more from Lars Krutak head over to the Smithsonian Science News!!! 


@Robert Davies

Tattoodo Staff Writer and tattoo enthusiast. Lover of all things traditional and blackwork!


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