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Part 1, 3rd Bold Section, 6th paragraph. 1.3.6

"The history of tattooing and body piercing." 

Readers are likely to assume this article is good because it is in a "journal." But, as someone working at Stanford University told me: "Not all journals are created equal."

Merely by appearing in "The Journal of Infection Prevention", Chalmers' article gains credence.  Readers will assume the article is trustworthy, that's only natural, based on the character and trustworthiness of the periodical, judged mostly however on the fact that they subscribe to it. You can't blame the reader for the fraudulent presentation, parading as knowledgable and well researched. Not only does the article have many references, and is "peer reviewed", the editor endorses the article post scripting the importance of knowing the history of T&P. In terms of any wide effect, I would suspect few medically-trained readers would choose to read an article about T&P.

Chalmers says the article will be "...charting the history of tattooing and body piercing throughout history..." but I find it relies on very few sources: Mason's Need to Know (a book listed by the publisher as "juvenile literature"), John Rush, Camphausen, di Folco, and an on-line course written by a nurse.

Chalmers writes

...this paper considers the history of tattooing and body piercing. It charts the existence of tattooing and body piercing throughout history and provides an overview of techniques and functions of such activities.

“Charting” 60,000 years of body art history (taking the dating from Camphausen) does not consist of  

A) citing three archaeological examples: Egyptian Priestess Amunet, Otzi the Ice Man, and the Ice Maiden, (taken from Gilbert, Mason, di Folco),

B) nor by incorrectly implying millenniums of continuous tattooing in New Zealand (which was only inhabited AD 1000-1300), Samoa (only inhabited AD 500), and  Japan

C) and certainly not by describing historical European tattooing as once a “popular” cultural practice (from Mason's children's book) unless the meaning is: it was popular with rulers using tattoo as punishment and identification by the  branding of slaves, criminals, vagrants, and conscripts. It is doubtful if it were popular with those being forcibly marked.

This charade is rounded out by virtually copying a thinner "history" from a nurse's on-line tattoo history course.

Chalmers begins this "history": 1.3.6

The history of tattooing and body piercing 
Tattooing and body piercing as ancient body arts have existed throughout the centuries, with archaeological records and ethnological research confirming such practices as indeed “as old as history itself” (di Folco, 2004:8). 

di Folco writes about tattoo

Tattooing isn’t just a recent phenomenon – it is as old as history.  We know this, for example, from the cave paintings of Tassili N’Ajjer, in Algeria (around 6000 BC), which show women with tattooed chests. (di Folco, 2004:8)

di Folco post scipts piercing, which shows a different dating

Tattooing and piercing have been with us for thousands of years, have been practiced in most of the countries around the globe, and must have had a wider significance than mere fashion. (di Folco, 2004:8)

Here di Folco creates a distinction between tattooing "as old as history" and piercing "with us for thousands of years by citing cave paintings for tattoo: the Berber cave paintings of Tassili N’Ajjer in north central Africa, which he says show tattooed chests.

di Folco's brilliant photography coffee-table book Skin Art was not written as a reference book for historical facts and authority. It does not provide references. The use and misuse of references will be mentioned later.

di Folco does not claim to be a reference for historical research which Chalmers claims and does not provide “archaeological records”. He provides no “ethnological research” which Chalmers claims as well.

What Chalmers is doing is trying to build an equality of importance and standing for both tattoo and piercing so that they can be argued against simultaneously.

Her effort to equate T&P can be shown in 1.3.5:  a brainstorming exercise to list all the possible uses and meanings for tattoo and then declaring that everything tattoo has meant, or could mean, is equally shared with piercing. Reflecting on the symbolic meanings of tattoo compared to meanings for piercings will convince anyone that the idea that the two talk the same language is a big stretch.

Chalmers grabs di Folco's “fashion” statement repeatign that modern tattoo is mere fashion statement  (incorrectly referencing Caplan as the source of that idea, intentionally to mask her indebtedness?).

Also note that di Folco writes “it is as old as history” which Chalmers carelessly writes as “it is as old as history itself.”

Because Chalmers writes that T&P is “as old as history itself” it is curious that she then writes “it is not known exactly when these activities originated.”  A funny contradiction.


Tattooing and body piercing as ancient body arts have existed throughout the centuries, with archaeological records and ethnological research confirming such practices as indeed “as old as history itself” (di Folco, 2004:8). 
While it is not known exactly when these activities originated or why such behavior [ ! ] first emerged (Rush, 2005) it is widely acknowledged that these practices are strongly linked to societal culture (Groning, 1997). (Chalmers, 2009:102)

As an aside, notice the choice words, of using the word “behaviors,” psychoanalytically suggestive of atavism or degeneration rather than "practices" or even "ritual."  It is hard to understand how she missed Rush's emphasis that human spirituality produces body art, (and mutilation) the theme of his book.

The "di Folco", "Rush", and "Groning" references make it look like a well referenced article. Unless you knew these books as I do, you would never suspect the wool being pulled over your eyes.

In all giving the author the benefit of the doubt, maybe Chalmers was thinking of Susan Benson's article in Written on the Body.

Benson writes

It is an anthropological commonplace that every culture's ideas about the body both reflect and sustain ideas about the broader social and cultural universe in which those bodies are located. (Susan Benson in JC, page 234.)

This may sound profound, but in essence it means that groups and societies inevitably come to interpret certain marks of appearance, such as clothes, or skin color, as indicators of sharing, of belonging together, or as  differences, seen as "otherness" resulting in predictable responses in specific audiences; for example, being accepted as a member, or when an audience laughs in unison, or jeers.

However, in the multi-dimensional multi-stratified West, an examination of the mixed messages of media, school textbooks, contemporary literature, pop culture, sports, and influential public figures expressing characterizations of tattoo is hardly a unified  message "strongly linked to societal culture". Alan Govenar mentions general societal negative associations with tattoo in the 50s and 60s resulting in a crackdown by legislators but does not claim these as reflecting the cultural universe of America. They are treated more as a peculiarity and the reaction of mothers against their children getting tattooed. It is agreed upon by scholarly references that in some societies, such as found on many Pacific Polynesian Islands, tattoo actually played a positive, significant part in maintaining social functioning, so much so that the lack of a tattoo would be unthinkable. (Gell) In reverse, the lack of tattoo in some parts of Western society is seen by some (Christians, Jews, Muslims) to add peripherally to maintain the function of that group in which tattoo's absence assumed a positive value when considered.

The argumentative narrative in the article is overstated, ostensibly to defend and support the Biblical negativity. Without a Biblical injunction it is hard to imagine tattoo being an issue. Of course, one could argue as Immanuel Kant did that the designs may be beautiful as long as not on a person, as a matter of taste.

Groning, 1997, as the source for the “strongly linked to societal culture” turns out to actually emphasizes the individual’s role. 

Groning's message of self-expression goes unnoticed.

The flyleaf of Body Decoration by Karl Groning describes Groning’s emphasis.

Since earliest times, humans have decorated their skin in endless ways and for fascinating reasons. Laden with cultural messages and imbued with aesthetic experience, body decoration is the ultimate form of self-expression in which the artists create for themselves a “second skin” as a testimony to the society in which they live, as a mirror of their own individuality and as a reflection of the supernatural. (Karl Groning)

Here Groning juxtaposes the individual:

ultimate form of self-expression ...
Artists create for themselve
s …
mirror of their own individuality

while at the same time for society being

Laden with cultural messages...
testimony to the society…

a reflection of the supernatural.

Groning’s theme is demonstrated and illustrated through pictures. His preface juxtaposes two photographs that are meant to summarize what has happened to individual creativity by exposure to Western civilizing influences.

The Preface page of Body Decoration has two juxtaposed photographs labeled with these words:

Only two years separate this pair of pictures: the traditionally decorated Nuba man opposite was photographed in 1975; the picture above was taken in 1977.

The 1975 picture on the left is of a young Nuba African man, openly gazing outward, with a non self-consciousness of his nakedness, his body coated in what looks like something shiny black, a coating or body surface, his face colorfully painted and feathers in his hair. The second picture, from 1977, two years later, shows a Nuba man wearing western style shorts, knitted sport shirt, decorated this time with a  watchband, ring, and a baseball hat, sitting on a rock, slumped and looking at the ground.

Body Decoration is not a reference for historical academically accurate information because its purpose is to display manual body decoration (mostly body painting) using nature’s products with more than 250 stunning photos of body painting, 65 of tattooing, 30 of scarification and 20 showcasing piercing. It is not written to contribute to archaeological nor ethnological research about tattoo or body piercing. The following Groning contributor is instructive. Keep this passage in mind because this may be the source of the idea  of “passing on” and “consolidation” ideas which Chalmers brings up later to alarm the older generation that our Western heritage is at risk if the practice of tattooing is allowed to continue.

Reichel-Dolmantoff, contributor to Body Decoration writes (Groning, 1997:15)

For thousands of years body decoration and body art have been used to express the cultural characteristics of a society. Whether a body decorated in a particular way is seen as desirable, profane, unclean or undesirable depends on the common cultural heritage of a society. Body art is one of the ways in which this heritage is passed on and consolidated, so people react strongly – whether positively or negatively – when they compare their own concepts of body decoration with those of other cultures. This book [Body Decoration ] shows us that decorated skin is a fundamental human phenomenon, and that, despite great differences, the expressive forms of body art – which seek to express, illustrate or challenge patterns of social identification – can help us to understand other cultures. Perhaps this may create a mutual respect, an acceptance of shared humanity and a new understanding of our precarious situation, and so contribute to a renewed dialogue among the peoples of the world. Through the sensitive medium of photography we can find a knowledge and appreciation of decorated skin across all cultures; at the same time these magnificent pictures bring home to us the current state of the human race and of our own lives, as we witness the fearsome rapid decline of so much of our world’s artistic and cultural heritage. We should heed the messages that body art conveys! (Groning, 1997:15 forward by Reichel-Dolmantoff, E.)

This argument is used later by Chalmers, but in reverse, not to promote acceptance of body art which Reichel-Dolantoff does, but as an argument to oppose T&P, T&P being interpreted as a force acting to destroy the biblical Western “common cultural heritage”.

Coinciding with the sentiments of Groning, Rush, in Spiritual Tattoo, one of Chalmers’ most referenced authors, is equally emphatic reflecting on culturally relative spiritual themes in contrast to Chalmers literalistic absolutism.

Rush writes:

Modern body modification has become an obsession in North America.  Makeovers, including breast augmentation, face and jaw alterations, liposuction, and cosmetic dentistry (Engler 2000) are, for the most part, readily accepted by a public fascinated with ego, acceptance, and a culturally contrived concept of beauty. Somehow these procedures are considered different from tattooing, scarification, and certain types of piercing. This difference can best be explained by the behavioral reference of the procedures. In other words, breast augmentation, nose jobs, face tightening, tummy tucks, and so on are movements toward a cultural concept of beauty and a standard of youth: while individual-directed (rather than societal-directed, e.g. branding or whipping) mutilation, scarring, or tattooing point in another direction- that is, toward self or individualism, or perhaps toward pathology because it is so far from the accepted norm. The former displays the norm, while the latter displays the other possibilities, but the purpose, at least at some level of awareness, is (Rush emphasis) to move from one physical and emotional condition to another and in most cases display the modification. (Rush 2005:55)


By categorizing tattoo as “toward the self or individualism” Rush should not be thought of as missing the most widespread historical use of tattoo: assimilation and conformity, exclusion, subjection, penalization, stigmatization, pathologization and punishment which he addresses everywhere.

When tourists wander into the piercing jewelry section at Unimax Supply Co in New York City, a few cannot help themselves, mostly men, express shock, rejection, and disapproval when seeing one or two-inch diameter "ear gauges" (a new and spontaneously popular word for large diameter ear jewelry) and yet favorably view the results of cutting open of a woman's breasts to bulk them up.