Tattooing is at least as old as the pyramids, although the word came into the language only two centuries ago. Captain James Cook described the process, which he termed tattowing from the Polynesian tatau, on his return from his first voyage in 1769. The method has changed little over the centuries: practitioners insert dye into a puncture or slit made into the deeper portions of the skin. Accidental tattooing also occurs, as when dye-containing material is ground or blasted into the skin.
Many reasons explain the incidence of tattoos. The person who seeks out this form of decoration may reveal psychiatric or psychologic problems. Hamburger,1 who studied tattooed criminals and narcotic addicts, suggested that the tattoo symbolized a uniform to many of his subjects, and represented a link with a sympathetic group of his peers: "Joining a group often serves as a substitute for the subject's deficient family." The