|Timucuan Man of Florida, John White Painting, 1585 |
(after LeMoyne, 1564)
|Timucuan Woman of Florida, John White Painting, 1585 (after LeMoyne, 1564)|
Modifying the human body with permanent marks has been around at least 5000 years, the age of the tattooed Ice Man recently discovered in a melting glacier on the Swiss/Italian border. Egyptian mummies have tattoos preserved on their mummified skin.
Early explorers along the East Coast of North America noted the incidence of body decoration almost everywhere. DeSoto's chroniclers reported it on their travels through the Southeast in 1526. Soldiers, sailors and an artist/cartographer with the French Hugeunots who built Fort Caroline in 1564, wrote about tattooing among the Timucua Indians of Northeast Florida.
|Outina Consults a Sorcerer, DeBry Engraving of Timucua, 1591 (after LeMoyne, 1564)|
The first published artististic depiction of tattooed American Indians was published in 1591 by Theodore DeBry, a Dutch engraver. He portrayed the Timucua Indians of Florida and the Algonquians of Virginia (later to become North Carolina) as tattooed. His Florida engravings were thought to be based on paintings by the French Hugeunot cartographer, Jacques Le Moyne, and his Virginia engravings were proven to be based on the watercolors of John White, an Englishman with the Roanoke Voyages.
|Saturina Goes to War, DeBry Engraving of Timucua, 1591 (after LeMoyne, 1564)|
|The King and Queen Take a Walk, DeBry Engraving of Timucua, 1591 (after LeMoyne, 1564)|
|One of the Wives of Wyngyno, John White Painting of Algonquian Indians of Virginia (later North Carolina), 1585|
|The Wife of the Chief of Pomeioc with her Daughter, John White Painting of Algonquian Indians, 1585|
|Indian in War Paint, John White Painting of Algonquian Indians, 1585|
|A Great Lord of Virginia, DeBry Engraving, 1591 (after White, 1585)|
|The Marks of the Chief Men of Virginia, DeBry Engraving, 1591 (after White, 1585)|
As noted above, the use of painting and tattooing by American Indians was widespread at the time of first European contact and was reported by the explorers of the15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In the 18th century, soldiers, traders, missionaries and settlers frequently reported and depicted the unusual and extensive body decoration of the American Indians.
|The Georgia Indians in Their Natural Habitat, PhilipVon Reck Painting, 1736|
|Mohawk Chief, Verelst Painting , 1710|
|Tomochichi, King of the Yamachraw and his Son, Verelst Painting, 1734|
In the 19th century, the U.S. government commissioned portraits of Indian leaders who came to Washington to negotiate treaties. Although most of these Indian leaders had adopted European dress, their portraits show that facial decoration persisted through the 19th century.
|Yoholo-Micco, a Creek Chief, Charles Bird King Painting, 1826|
|Straight Man, a Distinguishwed Shawnee Warrior, George Catlin Painting, 1830|
|A Choctaw Ball Player, George Catlin Painting, 1834|
|Weetarasharo, Head Chief of the Wichita, George Catlin Painting, 1834|
|Illinois Warriors and Dancer, Alexander DeBatz Painting, 1732|
In pre-contact times, before Europeans "discovered" America, American Indians created human figural art in engraved shell, embossed copper, wood and clay figurines. Many of these human figural artifacts uncovered archaeologically, depict body decoration. It is difficult to determine if these depictions represented painting or tattooing of the body but some of the designs are very similar to tattooing documented in historic times.
|Engraved Shell Cup, Spiro Site, Spiro Oklahoma|
|Rubbing of Engraved Shell Cup, Spiro Site, Spiro, Oklahoma|
|Engraved Shell Mask with weeping eye decoration, Little Egypt Site, Murray County, Georgia|
|Repousse Copper Profile Cutout with forked eye decoration, Spiro, Oklahoma|
|Drawing of Repousse Copper Birdman Plate, Burial 7, Leon County, Florida|
|Wooden Masks, Key Marco Site, Marco Island, Florida|
|Human Head Effigy Vessel, Blythville, Arkansas|
|Two hunchback human figural vessels with face and body decoration, |
a late pre-contact Mississippean Culture, Campbell Site, Pemiscot County, Missouri and Mississippi County, Arkansas
|Yuchi Face Painting, Chief Society and Warrior Society, Frank G. Speck drawing from his ethnographic reseach, 1909|
The most recent source of information on American Indian body decoration is found in ethnographic studies with Indian informants. This type of study undertaken in the late19th and 20th centuries, served primarily to document the loss of the native Indian cultural traditions including body decoration, with acculturation.
Today, tattooing has experienced a revival among all of American society including Native Americans. Some Native Americans today are using the same literary, artistic and archaeological sources cited above to revive their ancient traditions including the widespread tradition of decorating the body with permanent marks.
|Hand-across-mouth design, historic Omaha warrior and prehistoric hawkman embossed copper plate drawing from Dunklin County, Missouri|
|Poor Wolf, Hidatsa Man with Tattoo, Frederick N. Wilson painting, 20th century|
Photographic citations listed in: Antoinette B. Wallace, "Southeastern American Indian Body Decoration: Forms and Functions" A Masters Thesis, Harvard University, 1993.