Tattooing can be traced back over 5,000 years ago thanks to clay figurines and, most importantly, mummies found in places all across the globe. Perhaps most famous is Otzi, a primitive man found in the Otztal Alps between the Austrian and Italian border by two mountain climbers. While his tribal tattoos were only made up of lines, they give a wonderful look into what ancient life was like. His ink matches up with classic acupuncture points, but many mummies of this kind not only have medicinal purposes behind their pieces...they are deeply sacred and ritualistic in nature.
When we think of tribal tattoos, we usually think of Polynesian. Big black shapes, swirling lines and abstract symbols all magnificently curve around the body in an organic way. They are a tradition within tribal tattooing that continues today, and they have influenced much of tattoo culture. But there are also tons of other tribes around the world that practiced tattooing, including ancient peoples in China, Japan, Europe, India, and Africa. Each continent has its own history of tribal tattooing, and its own aesthetic, which continues to inspire modern tattooists today. Ancient man still has a place within the contemporary world.
Many people who get tribal tattoos are interested in primitivism, the philosophy that everything is better when it is simplified and of an authentic, natural experience. Many of our day to day ordeals are marred by social stressors, work issues, and more...perhaps Thoreau said it best, "Our life is frittered away in detail...simplify, simplify." And while the, often, intricate designs of tribal tattoos may seem a step away from this...they are actually an expression of our deepest selves. We want to live beautiful and unhindered lives, and sometimes that means going back to our ancient ancestors and paying attention to what they have to offer and teach.