Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How long have we used body paint and tatoos?

Hola darlings!  I've been wanting to post items, but there has not been much lately that I've deemed of sufficient interest, ach!  But this article is interesting, if perhaps reaching too far into the realms of speculation -- ha ha, that's funny, coming from me :) 

I'm a little familiar with some of the discoveries at Blombos cave(s).  I recall reading some years ago about the discovery of tiny marine shells with delicately pierced holes through them -- for what purpose?  The guess was that they may have been strung on something and used as necklaces or perhaps bracelets, although they might also have been stitched somehow to clothing directly as a talisman or decoration.  One can speculate endlessly, of course!  The ochre may have been used to "paint" the dead to assist them on their journey to the after-life; perhaps it was used for other purposes -- what if it was offered to the sea gods, for instance, in payment for taking bounty from the sea?  What if only shamans could "wear" it?  We don't know, and we probably never will know.

The Blombos cave(s)' oldest discoveries date back perhaps 100,000 years ago.  Far later in man's history, there is plenty of evidence that ancient Egyptian women possibly used some form of tatooing, or maybe body paint (?), to accentuate their pubic area.  I don't specifically recall seeing any images of ancient Egyptian men similarly adorned but that's not to say it isn't out there.  In between 100,000 years ago and 5,500 or so years ago is a LONG time.  People all over the place were tatooing and/or painting themselves.  Check out some of the fascinating images at Wikipedia's entry "The History of Tatooing."  See also:

Smithsonian online:  Tatoos: The ancient and mysterious history, January 1, 2007.
PBS.org:  Skin Stories - the Art and Culture of Polynesian Tatoo
National Geographic Magazine: Tatoos - Pigments of the Imagination, December 2004.

Popular Archaeology
Volume 9, December 2012
Skin Decoration Goes Way Back, Suggests Researcher
(Online February 16, 2013)

About 1.5 to 2 million years ago, early humans, according to the prevailing view of most paleoanthropologists and archaeologists, evolved into nearly hairless primates to more efficiently sweat away excess body heat. But later, according to Penn State anthropologist Nina Jablonski in a report to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, humans may have begun to decorate skin to increase attractiveness to the opposite sex and to express, among other things, group identity.

Over thousands of years, humans used their skin as canvases of self-expression in a variety ways, including permanent methods such as tattooing and branding, as well as temporary, including cosmetics and body painting, according to Jablonski. But the determination of when this practice began to occur is somewhat more elusive than estimating the time when humans as primates actually began to lose their hair. "We find a lot of evidence of when humans began to lose hair based on molecular genetics," said Jablonski. But studying skin itself is difficult because it can be preserved only for a few thousand years, as opposed to bones, which fossilize and last millions of years. Nevertheless, while it is difficult to know when humans began to decorate their skin, some of the earliest preserved skin shows signs of tattooing, maintains Jablonski.

Decades of research in caves in Europe and South Africa, among other places, have evidenced the manufacture and use of ancient pigments by early modern humans, particularly as media for creating wall paintings. Many scientists suggest that the pigments were also used for body decoration, and the practice could go as far back as more than 100,000 years. A recent discovery of a prehistoric "workshop" in the South African cave of Blombos, for example, evidenced the manufacture of ochre in a cave where there was no evidence of any wall painting. The "workshop", consisting of abalone shells where ochre was stored and processed, combined with fat, crushed bone, quartz and charcoal to produce a pigment compound that was possibly used as paint for painting, decoration and skin protection, was dated to about 100,000 years BP. The dating corresponds to a time when early modern humans were thought to be on the threshold of thinking and expressing themselves in symbolic ways and laying the foundations for art and language.

But as ancient as body painting and tattooing could be, Jablonski makes the point that the age-old craft has implications for understanding the nature and behavior of modern humans today, as well. "We can paint a great design on our bodies and use those designs to send all sorts of messages or express group memberships," said Jablonski. "Usually it is something with deep meaning. When I talk to people about their tattoos they tell me they've spent months or years choosing a design that is incredibly meaningful and salient to them."

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...