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How Tattoos made a 5000 Year Old Iceman a Criminal

By Aaron Brest


Otzi the Iceman, a human who lived 5000 years ago, was discovered in 1991 by a tourist couple on the Austro-Italian border. His discovery gave eager archaeologists an unprecedented opportunity to study the inhabitants of the Bronze Age and ushered in observations, questions, and answers about his death, culture, health, and lifestyle. Yet, upon the discovery that Otzi had about 61 tattoos, media reports on the affair suggested that he was “probably a criminal.”

This bias against tattoos is nothing new. Kelley Bailey, a contributor at the “Huffington Post” recounts a potential employer giving him advice while applying for jobs: “It wasn’t the best idea to turn up with my tattoos showing.”


Additional discrimination against his dermal markings frequently took place outside of professional settings. On a train, Bailey remembers an elderly couple “looking me up and down” and “fixating their eyes onto mine in disgust.” He adds that the treatment continued for 5 to 10 minutes.


Statistics from the popular job-finding site LinkedIn further cements this idea, with 88% of employers believing that having tattoos could restrict one’s career progression. They’re not wrong: Another 41% of employers stated that they didn’t hire a candidate due to visible tattoos. Half of the 41% claimed that it was because tattoos were lacking professionalism.


This association between tattoos and delinquency can be traced to the historical use of tattoos as indicative of deserters in Britain, prisoners in America, and fellow gang members in Japan. Many of these associations have persisted into the era of Pax Atomica, with some being more founded such as the markings of Yakuza in Japan and Bratva in Russia. However, the stigma that remained from pre-World War II cultures is seeming to come towards a close with younger generations being less bothered by tattooed persons. Especially in the United States where a study of 70 interviewees showed a positive correlation between younger generations and tolerance of heavily tattooed women.


In an ironic twist of events, the tattoos on Otzi were revealed to be marking acupunctural and strained locations. This shifted the possible discovery of such anatomical points back 2000 years, proving Otzi and his people to be more knowledgeable than even the scientific community had previously assumed.


So much for delinquency.


Sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/05/science/mummies-tattoos-archaeology.html#site-index

https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/kevin-bailey/society-and-tattoos_b_15788552.html

https://www.thehrdirector.com/features/policies-and-procedures/employer-bias-tattoos/

https://web.archive.org/web/20160828060013/http://japandailypress.com/the-view-of-tattoos-in-japanese-society-295623/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/oct/26/russian-criminal-tattoos

https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15zc80j

https://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113319184/scan-finds-new-tattoos-on-5300-year-old-iceman-012215/


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