World’s oldest tattoos inked with soot

Posted on 07 Nov, 2011

Tattoos today are a far cry from those that were created thousands of years ago, with their complex designs, an array of inks and a long list of health and safety rules and regulations.

The 5,300-year-old Tyrolean iceman known as Ötzi was found near the Italian-Austrian border in 1991. Inspection of the preserved flesh showed the presence of simple tattoos in the form of crosses or lines.

As most of the tattoos would have been concealed by items of clothing, scientists believe that they are likely to have served a medical purpose rather than a decorative one.

Analysis has also shown that the substance used to pigment the skin was likely to be soot. It is thought that the soot could have been collected from a fireplace and then injected into the skin, although the tools used to do this are unknown.

As the easiest form of black that is available, soot-ink has often been used by different cultures as tattoo ink. Indeed, there is evidence that soot ink is still used to create tattoos in prisons.

As designs are governed more by fashion than therapy nowadays, many more people subsequently turn to laser tattoo removal to make their tattoos fade away.