The Nautical Roots of Popular Tattoos

Collectors Weekly has a nice write up about origins of tattoos among sailors.

Body art was particularly well-suited to the transient and dangerous nature of life at sea. “These sailors were traveling the world, and wanted to bring back souvenirs from places they had visited,” explains Eldridge. “Aboard a ship, you don’t have much room to carry fancy souvenirs, so you end up getting tattoos as travel marks.” …But beyond mere records of their travels, tattoos also served a superstitious purpose among those living an unpredictable, and often risky, lifestyle. “Many sailors are extremely superstitious,” says Eldridge, “so they would get specific tattoos to relieve this anxiety over their beliefs. There are stories of guys in the old, wooden-ship days who would get Christ’s head tattooed on their backs so if they got into trouble and had to take lashes, the person wielding the lash would be more sympathetic.”…“Sailors would get things like a pig and rooster on their feet to keep them from drowning,” Eldridge says. “They would have ‘Hold Fast’ tattooed on their knuckles so that when they were in the riggings, their hands would stay strong. They would get hinges on their elbows to keep them from having rheumatism and arthritis, and sometimes they would even get a little oil can tattooed above the hinge so that the hinges would stay lubricated.”

via Hello Sailor! The Nautical Roots of Popular Tattoos | Collectors Weekly.

Dr. M (1606 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, created to facilitate research to address fundamental questions in evolutionary science. He has conducted deep-sea research for 11 years and published over 40 papers in the area. He has participated in dozens of expeditions taking him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses mainly on marine systems and particularly the biology of body size, biodiversity, and energy flow. He focuses often on deep-sea systems as a natural test of the consequences of energy limitation on biological systems. He is the author and chief editor of Deep-Sea News, a popular deep-sea themed blog, rated the number one ocean blog on the web and winner of numerous awards. Craig’s popular writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.





13 comments on “The Nautical Roots of Popular Tattoos
  1. Pingback: The Nautical Roots of Popular Tattoos – Deep-Sea News | Infinite Shores, LLC

    • Elijah,
      If you are going to quote a book, especially the Bible, please make sure to provide a full quote and provide the version of the Bible you are quoting

      “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” American King James Version

      http://bible.cc/leviticus/19-28.htm

    • American King James Version
      So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said to them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

    • And of course my personal favorite where God gives me permission to kill someone for making fun of my baldnessn

      2 Kings 2:23-24 “Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.” (KJV)

  2. I go in on Thursday for my next tattoo session, to color in and add to the one I started 4 weeks ago. Not only do I have a sargassum biome on my arm but I’m betting I’m the only one in four counties that has a gooseneck barnacle tattooed on his arm. ;)

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