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Ancient Tattoo Equipment

by
author image Maude Coffey
Maude Coffey retired after 10 years working as a professional body modification artist in the tattoo industry. She is certified in principles of infection control and blood-borne pathogens. Coffey received additional training and classes, such as anatomy, jewelry standards and aftercare, from the Association of Professional Piercers. Coffey aims to educate about safe tattooing and piercing practices while writing for various websites.
Ancient Tattoo Equipment
Many cultures have long used tattoos to celebrate rites of passage. Photo Credit Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

Tattoo instruments, such as needles and tubes, are sterilized in an autoclave before a tattoo procedure. Before the patent of the tattoo machine by Sam Reilly in 1891, organic instruments were used by cultures to perform tattoo rituals. Some cultures still practice the ancient tattoo rituals and incorporate latex gloves and autoclaves to make the procedure safer for the people performing and getting the tattoo.

Ancient Egypt

Archaeologist W.M.F. Petrie discovered two different types of ancient tattoo tools in Egypt, according to "Smithsonian Magazine." The first type was a wood-handled tattoo instrument with a sharp point, dating back to 3000 B.C., found in Abydos, Egypt. The second type of tattoo instruments, discovered in Gurob, were made of bronze, in a shape similar to needles. In modern tattooing, some tattoo needles are referred to as "flats," and the ancient bronze tattoo instruments look like flat and wide needles in a group.

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Rites in Polynesia

Traditional Polynesian tattoos were -- and still are -- performed as a rite of passage or to show wealth or status. The heavily tattooed men were respected and admired; men with no tattoos were shunned or disrespected. A woman was permitted to cook for her family and participate in preparing bodies for funeral rituals only after achieving womanhood and receiving a tattoo. Tools used for Polynesian tattoos consisted of needles in a comb or rake shape attached to a wood handle. The needles were made from bone or tortoiseshell, and punctured the skin when a separate wood stick tapped the wood handle of the comb.

Thai Tattoos

The Thai Guide to Thailand website explains that in Thailand, monks perform a tattoo ritual known as a Sak Yant, which means “magic tattoo,” believing that the tattoo will bring protection, luck, strength or good fortune. Intertwined with Buddhist beliefs and mantras, monks still perform this ancient form of tattooing today. A stick of bamboo, usually 6 to 12 inches in length, is one tool used to perform the tattoo. On one end of the bamboo stick is a sharp point that looks like a quill. The sharp point is split into two pieces to deliver ink into the skin. Another implement used for tattooing a “magic tattoo” is a metal spike, similar to the size of the bamboo stick.

Japanese Tradition

The traditional art of Tebori, or tattooing by hand, is a technique practiced by the Japanese, according to the Tao of Tattoos website. A row of needles adhered to a wood or metal handle is the equipment used by a Tebori master to tattoo the skin. The constant motion of moving the hand holding the handle creates the tattoo design. Unlike modern electric tattoo machines, the Tebori master performs the tattoo in an ongoing rhythm, instead of performing a line and stopping.

Maori Designs

In New Zealand, the Maori tribe tattooed female and male members of the community. The New Zealand in History website explains that the Maori tribe regarded the head as the most sacred part of the body. Women only received facial tattoos, mainly around the lips, chin and nostrils. The entire face of the man was tattooed. Some members of the Maori tribe wore spiral tattoos that started on the buttocks and ended at the knee. In a tattoo ritual, the Maori used a chisel made of bone to cut lines and shapes in the skin. After the lines were cut, the Maori would tap the chisel, with the edge dipped in pigment, into the lines.

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