The oldest remains of tattooed skin have been traced back to the body of Ötzi the Iceman. Researchers theorize that the first tattoo was probably an accident, wherein someone got branded by a hot stick and the mark stayed on. At first, tattoo inks were limited to black but then eventually, more and more pigments and primary colours were experimented with and new shades were discovered.
The First Pigments:
Tattoo artists believe that the earliest kind of pigment used was created from an oily nut found in a native tree in Samoa. It was produced by skewering these nuts over a hot fire and covering them with half a coconut shell. As the nuts burnt and smouldered, the shell trapped the soot inside it. Once enough soot was collected, the Samoans added seawater to it. The pattern was hammered in using a primitive mallet.
Another technique, mostly used in prison was to grind bricks into dust and mix it with water to make the ink.
The popularity of tattoos has been sporadic in nature, from being limited to only royalty to circus women wearing them provocatively, to being the mark of a criminal. In ancient Japan, tattoos were welcomed as signs of a particular profession and for spiritual and decorative reasons.
History credits the Japanese with having used the first colour tattoos about 300 years ago. Artists explored using cadmium, ferric oxide and green and blue organic dyes. Now, modern technology is responsible for the creation of every colour in the spectrum. Today, tattooists use solutions containing alcohol, benzoic acid, methyl salicylate, distilled water and other ingredients. The metal mercury is used for red, lead for yellow, green and white, cobalt for blue, copper for blue, green, etc. Apart from these heavy metals, artists also use a variety of organic chemicals.
Tattoos were originally used to signify one's rank, status and symbol. Then as with most things, the tides turned, and from being spurned completely, they came to be associated with the underbelly of society and rebels of an era. It is now, probably millennia after the first tattoo ever, that we're slowly accepting inked skin as a way of conveying a message, a way of seeing oneself and perceiving the world. We've come full circle at last.