There is nothing deeper in Mankind than their own skin, the French philosopher and poet Paul Valéry once wrote. It is on the skin - through tattoos - that people preserve the marks of their journey, their identity, their emotions.
Tattoos tell ancient stories. The geometric patterns of Polynesia symbolise the tribal and social identity of its inhabitants; the crude drawings of ancient Greece (1100 BC to 146 BC) identify prisoners, slaves or criminals; dragons, carp and coloured tigers perpetuate the crimes of members of the Japanese Yakusa mafia; and in Portugal, tattoos are associated with marginalisation, prostitution, fado and the sailors of bohemian Lisbon during the early 20th century.
But the oldest recorded tattoos are approximately 5300 years old and are speculated to have had therapeutic purposes. They belong to Otzi, the famous "Ice Man", found in the Italian Alps in 1991. The mummy preserves 61 perfectly visible tattoos located near the joints.
Throughout history, the tattoo tradition has alternated between being socially valued or repressed. Today the art of tattooing the body has been democratised, establishing itself as a common form of expression and artistic practice.
According to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), about 12% of European citizens have tattoos, but the percentage in the 18-35 age group is double that. In the US, an estimated 24% of Americans are tattooed.