How Long Have Tattoos Been Around?

Present day – Permanent body art is now socially acceptable in most parts of the world; in the United States, roughly a quarter of people aged between 18 and 50 have tattoos, and this number is on the rise.

1891 – Samuel O’Reilly patented the rotary tattoo machine. It was the first tattooing device to be powered by electricity, and many of its features are still present in the modern day version, which is used globally.

1769 – Captain James Cook, the famous British explorer who completed the first circumnavigation of New Zealand, discovered Polynesian tattoos after sailing into Tahiti. He also learnt the island’s word for their art form: tatau.


Circa 800 BCE – 500 CE –  Both the Greeks and the Romans used tattoos in order to identify slaves and criminals, as well as mercenaries, so that they could be found if they deserted. Tattoos may also have been used as a punishment.

Circa 3200 BCE – Otzi the Iceman was found preserved in the Alps in 1991, and bore the oldest examples of tattooing that have ever been discovered in Europe. He had a total of 61 carbon tattoos, mainly groups of straight lines.