The oldest known tattoo was discovered on the 5,200-year-old body of a man known as the Iceman, found on the Italian-Austrian border in 1991. Based on the locations of the markings, experts theorize that the tattoos on the Iceman were a form of therapy for joint pain.

There is evidence that ancient Egyptian women wore tattoos that had a therapeutic role in pregnancy or signified that they were royal concubines. Another ancient culture known to have tattoos is the Scythian Pazyryk of the Altai Mountain region of East-central Asia. Their tattoos signified a rank of nobility. Ancient Greeks and Romans had tattoos to mark criminals or identify members of a group, such as a religious sect.