Presently, Americans spend $1.65 billion on tattoos per year, from sexy tattoos to meaningful tattoos to eyeball tattoos. There are around 21,000 tattoo parlors in the US to cater to the 45 million Americans who have at least one tattoo. But for most of the past 5,200 years at least, tattoos have served a more practical purpose.
The Iceman, discovered on the Italian-Austrian border in 1991, is the earliest example discovered of the use of tattoos. His tattoos, unlike modern peoples’, correspond to strained areas on his body, perhaps to alleviate joint pain. Ancient Egyptians used them as protective amulets. Ancient Greeks and Romans used them to mark slaves, criminals, and members of religious sects. And ancient Britons may have used them as a mark of high status.
The purpose is not the only thing that has changed for tattoos; the method of tattooing has evolved considerably as well. Instead of the sharp point set in a wooden handle used 5,000 years ago, modern tattoo artists use an electronically powered machine to inject ink into the skin. To learn more about tattoos and their history, check out the infographic below.