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Kunsten på Kroppen
The Art of Tattooing

Photos of tattoos,
and presentation of:
Kai Uwe Faust
Patricia Campos
Marcus Hammer
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Kunsten på Kroppen Visiting Lejre Historical Research Centre
Land of Legends
Introduction and theories
2000 - 2001 - 2002 - 2003 - 2004 - 2005 - 2006 -
2007 - 2008 - 2009 - 2010 - 2011 - 2012 - 2013

We have had many good experiences at
Lejre Historical research Centre
where we have experimented with many old tattoo techniques
and the whole setting around getting a new tattoo.

Check the different years at the left side

- and read why and how down this page...


Why Lejre?

For us it is natural to work at the Lejre Historical Research Centre (Near Roskilde in Denmark), because that is exactly what we are doing:
Making historical experiments.
We do have a few theories that we try out, and see if they work out.

My theory is that people have always been tattooed.
As far back as we have traces of humans, we have traces that they were tattooed.
I have read about findings in some of the French caves that are 36.000 years old and that suggest tattooing practices.
They may not be proof proofs, but they give a reasonable suggestion.

The world's oldest existing human being, The Iceman Ötzi (about 5000 years old) was tattooed.

(we have more pictures of him under "History of tattooing")

Ever since the Bronze Age, people have been able to make needles of metal that could be used for tattooing.
Later, during the Iron Age, they were manufactured in iron.


I believe that the first tattoos were developed by chance from the fact that people had a small wound or simple rift, and then they rubbed a dirty hand over the wound:
maybe the hand was dirty from charcoal from the fire.
Then they saw that the mark did not go away.
After a while they realised that they could do this consciously, and then they made conscious marks on their bodies.
They had started tattooing.

We have always had an urge to decorate our bodies from different reasons.

The bottom line is that all colour tattooing (all normal tattooing) is done by dipping a needle in colour and making a mark. And another, and another, etc.
The rest is just knowing what to do and how to do it.

Before humans started making metal needles, they used what they could find in nature.
In the Stone Age, of course they used flint stones.
They made all kinds of tools from flint, so of course they could also tattoo with stone.

Here I an tattooing with a flint stone as needle. Maybe this is the first time in thousands of years that a tattoo has been done in this way!
This was at Lejre in 2003.

I have also always imagined that different kinds of thorns could be used for tattooing:
They only need to be pointy and hard enough, and shall of course not have hooks, like many have.
Rose thorns have proved to work fine, but even better are thorns from common hawthorn.
I have used both with great luck.

We have also tried out the techniques used by the Inuit in earlier times - they sewed the tattoo on using a needle and tread. You dip the thread (The Inuit used sinews from the animals) in colour and pull it through the skin. That way a trace is made and you can draw a line.

The colour:
I have also experimented by using soot and charcoal as tattoo colour.
There are loads of reports about how people earlier used soot from their lamps as colour. It is works fine.
We have also experimented by taking charcoal directly from the fires at the Marketplace at Lejre. We churned it fine with two stones. To make it moist you can simply add water. But we also tried to let the guy who got the tattoo to spit in the coal dust and that way make a fine paste that we could use to tattoo him.

When the tattoo has healed, soot and charcoal is normally looking more bluish under the skin.
That is why we normally use modern tattoo colour, even when we are making these historical experiments.

 We are wearing rubber gloves and use disposable, sterilised needles and colour, etc.
After all we live today and have to follow a few simple hygienic rules.
When I tattoo with flint stones and thorns, I simply dispose of them after use.
For fun I call this 'Organic Tattooing'.
It is not a problem that we are tattooing outside in the Nature and not in a sterile clinique.
What is absolutely necessary is that we never ever use the same needles, colour, etc. from one person to the next.

I have also imagined that it the good old days a tattoo was not just something that you entered a Tattoo Studio to get.
The tattooing process was was done together with holy and mystic rituals. There was drumming and burning of incense.
Maybe the whole family/tribe/village was present.
Probably the tattoo was made by the shaman who also in other instances knew about rituals and the mystic/mythical world,
In the summer of 2009 I experienced how cool it is to be told stories while a tattoo was made (see here).
The storyteller Trine told the tale of Sigurd Fafnersbane while I was tattooing Anja with the same motif.

Most people today feel that is a great experience to get their tattoo at Lejre in these ways and under these circumstances.

-- -- --

During the 1890's the modern electrical tattoo machine was invented, and it has not changed a lot since then.
But that is another story entirely.
The development of the modern tattoo machine led to the fact that most of the old techniques were forgotten.
Today there are not a lot who masters the early tattooing techniques. Except us who work at Kunsten på Kroppen in Copenhagen, Denmark.
But around the world there is a growing interest in it.
We are also using it in our daily work in Copenhagen, whenever the motive fits tattooing by hand.

In Japan handtattooing have been a living practise until today.
The same goes for a lot of other places in the Asiatic countries and in the Pacific Islands.
But even there the tattoo machine is now totally dominant.

Through my interest in the very old designs and motives, I have also been interested in he way they were done in the past.

That is what we have been experimenting with at Lejre, and with great success.

  Kunsten på Kroppen
Rådhusstræde 15 - 1466 København K - Denmark
+45 - 33 14 48 26