Ten Groundbreaking Tattoos with Fascinating Backstories

Tattoos. Getting something inked permanently on your body is a major commitment. Body art can be incredible to behold. It can be poignant, and it can be funny. Sometimes, it’s the embarrassing, often-regretted reminder of a wild drunken night.

But sometimes, tattoos have fascinating scientific and historical meanings. Tattoos found on ancient Egyptian mummies or in Medieval graveyards shed light on the rituals of long-gone cultures. Scientists have proposed them as a way to track glucose levels, highlight tumors, and even keep vaccine records. Here are ten of the most interesting tattoo stories from recent years and the beguiling backstories behind the body art.

Related: Top 10 Fascinating Examples Of Cultural Body Modification

10 Unlocking the Secrets of Ötzi the Iceman

In 1991, researchers unearthed the mummified remains of a 5,300-year-old man in the Alps, preserved in a glacier. They called him Ötzi the Iceman and were stunned to discover 61 carbon markings covering his body.

But how were these primitive tattoos made? Scientists have various theories, from rubbing soot into cuts to setting plant matter on fire under the skin. But in 2022, a team of scientists and tattoo artists decided to put these ideas to the test. They used four different techniques to inscribe the same image onto the leg of Danny Riday, a tattoo artist from New Zealand.

The group was keen to recreate the motif using tools that would have been available at the time. Their experiment involved animal bone, obsidian, and boar tusk—along with techniques like hand-tapping and hand-poking.

After creating a database of markings on Riday’s leg, the team decided that Otzi’s tattoos seemed to come from hand-poking with a single-pointed tool. “We ultimately proposed that Ötzi’s tattoos were made by puncture, likely using either a bone or copper awl,” explained archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf.[1]

9 Why Doctors Might Choose to Mark your Colon

When you think of getting a tattoo, the colon isn’t the first place that comes to mind. But there is a good reason why a doctor might decide to ink your innards. If a patient has lesions and small cuts inside the body, tattoos can help mark the areas for surgeons. These tattoos are typically carbon black. But they often leak and cause unwanted side effects.

But in 2022, scientists in the American Chemical Society announced a new type of colon tattoo ink based on biomaterial. The colorant is made from nanoparticles and polymers, which help with visibility and precision. Tests on pig innards and live mice showed improved results.

The team hopes to use their ink on humans to help with the safer removal of polyps and tumors. And why stop at the colon? If the precision is high enough, they say that tattoos could mark tumors across the gut or even the pancreas.[2]

8 Color Changing Inks That Track Glucose Levels

For people who suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes or kidney disease, it’s vital to keep track of the body’s internal biomarkers. Whether it’s glucose, albumin, or pH levels, you have to monitor them vigilantly. In 2019, scientists in Germany unveiled a new way to track those levels: color-changing tattoos.

So far, the novel inks have been tested on pig skin, not humans, but they’ve displayed impressive results. The tattoos danced across the color spectrum as researchers altered the biomarker levels. Unfortunately, only the pH sensor is reversible, meaning the glucose and albumin are only single use. But it’s a promising start for a new form of technology that could revolutionize the future of medical diagnostics.[3]

7 Medieval Christian Body Art Found in Africa

Archaeologists unearthed a rare find in Sudan: a medieval man with Christian body art. The tattoo on his right foot shows four Greek letters. Chi and rho are combined to form a Christogram, a shortened monogram of Christ’s name. The other two are alpha and omega, which signify that God is the creator and destroyer.

Researchers found the religious remains while exploring the site of Ghazali, a 7th-century monastery in the Bayuda Desert. There are hundreds of graves across four cemeteries, including the one containing the inked worshiper. Northeast Africa has a rich history of Christianity. Roman trade routes brought the religion to the region. It later became a commanding belief under the Kingdom of Makuria.[4]

6 Tattooing Mouse Embryo Cells with Gold Dots

In 2023, scientists revealed a new method to tattoo gold onto living tissue. The extraordinary procedure is known as nanoimprint lithography. Engineers in the U.S. “poked” gold nanodots and nanowires into fibroblast cells from a mouse embryo.

The bedazzled mice cells look impressive, and this discovery could be a new frontier in healthcare. “If you imagine where this is all going in the future, we would like to have sensors to remotely monitor and control the state of individual cells and the environment surrounding those cells in real time,” explained David Gracias, who led the study. “If we had technologies to track the health of isolated cells, we could maybe diagnose and treat diseases much earlier and not wait until the entire organ is damaged.”[5]

5 Dutch Actress Is First Person to Be Tattooed by a Robot

As well as being a star of stage and screen in Holland, Stijn Fransen has another, much stranger boast under her belt. In 2021, she received the first-ever tattoo from a robot. Artist Wes Thomas performed the tattoo remotely on a mannequin arm. His movements were linked via 5G to a robotic arm, which carried out the procedure on Fransen.

Luckily, they didn’t just rush in gung ho. Technologist Noel Drew spent six weeks devising the robotic arm. This involved trialing it on several mediums and materials, including vegetables. Sensors in the needle ensured it didn’t pierce the skin too deeply.

The artwork itself is fairly minimalist, but this world-first is an impressive feat of engineering nonetheless.[6]

4 Quantum Dot Acts as Vaccine ID

In 2019, MIT researchers unveiled a novel idea to keep track of vaccinated children: quantum dot tattoos. The idea is to record a patient’s jabs in their skin rather than relying on paper or electronic documents. Vaccine cards often go missing, especially in poorer parts of the world, and digital records are not always an option. So tiny tattoos, only visible under certain filters, may hold the answer.

The MIT team came up with a special ink made from tiny quantum dots that reflect light. These dots are injected into the skin in patterns along with the vaccine. The patterns are usually invisible, but they glow under infrared light. This allows medical professionals to read the vaccine records using an app and filter.

The quantum dot ink is still in its early stages. But tests on rats yielded promising results. As researcher Robert Langer told reporters, “It’s possible someday that this ‘invisible’ approach could create new possibilities for data storage, biosensing, and vaccine applications that could improve how medical care is provided, particularly in the developing world.”[7]

3 Are Ancient Egyptian Mummy Tattoos Linked to Pregnancy?

The Ancient Egyptians were no strangers to body art. Scientists have uncovered several tattooed mummies over the years. The site of Deir el-Medina on the bank of the Nile seems to be a hotspot for inked remains. Among the finds are two women with lower back tattoos, one unearthed around 100 years ago and the other in 2019. The first woman had a string of diamonds drawn just above her buttocks, while the second was adorned with images of water and plants.

Researchers believe this ancient symbolism is in some way linked to reproduction. The water and plants, they say, could depict the shore on the Nile, where pregnant or menstruating women would soothe themselves. Other female mummies have tattoos on their necks and hips, suggesting a further link to fertility. Another mummy was found to have what scientists believe is Bes, the god and protector of pregnant women, on her hip. Whatever the reason, these discoveries help us look closer at the cultures and customs of these fascinating ancient peoples.[8]

2 Tattooing Mind-Reading Electrodes into the Human Skull

E-tattoos that can read your brainwaves might sound like something out of science fiction, but one tech startup wants to make that a reality. Brain Scientific is working on a highly specialized type of tattoo made from tiny electrodes that are implanted into the skull. This e-tattoo picks up neural signals using a postage stamp-sized processor that clips behind the ear.

Co-founder and executive chairman Baruch Goldstein hopes his digital tattoos could change the face of medical research. He says his devices would allow doctors to receive data about a patient’s brain activity in real-time. This would aid in the study of neurological conditions. The current major project of Brain Scientific is trying to find the brain patterns that lie behind epileptic seizures.

“We are trying to predict when a seizure can happen,” Goldstein explained. “It is too still premature to say what the results will be, but these are more or less our goals: Just to predict when the seizure will happen so you can get medicine that might prevent it.”[9]

1 World’s Oldest Tattoo Tools Made from Bird Bones

Sharpened turkey bones found in an ancient Native American grave are, according to experts, the oldest tattoo tools ever discovered. The primitive inking gear dates back to 3500-1600 BC. The bones were found in 1985 in Fernvale, Tennessee, but until recently, scientists were unaware of their likely use in tattooing human skin.

This all changed when researchers inspected small amounts of pigment found in the artifacts. The team used incredibly detailed analysis techniques, including a microscope with 140 times magnification. They identified the two types of pigment: red and black. The red was found to be iron oxide, while the black was based on carbon. Both pigments are known to be traditional tattooing materials.

This landmark study suggests that the custom of body art dates back further than previously thought. Before this, the earliest known tool was a 2,000-year-old cactus spine device found in Utah.[10]

Comments are closed.