Tattooing in the Arctic: An Ancient History

Lars Krutak, PhD
Head from female doll figure with facial tattoos and charm headband, Punuk period, ca. 500-1000 CE. St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Walrus ivory. Edmund Carpenter Collection/Rock Foundation (#A8035). Photo: Sean Mooney.

For thousands of years the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic have produced astonishingly rich and diverse forms of tattooing. Long neglected by anthropologists and art historians, tattooing here was a time-honored practice that expressed the patterns of tribal social organization, therapeutic medicine, and religion, while also channeling worlds inhabited by deities, spirits, and the ancestors. This lecture explores the many facets of this ancient indelible practice with special reference to prehistoric ivory figurines.