Last year I finally decided to get the tattoos I had wanted for ages. It’s a big step, to commit to letting someone permanently mark your skin, but as I nervously brushed my teeth that morning I caught sight of the little crossed scars that I bear on my stomach from a couple of laparoscopies. I had not particularly wanted those marks on my body, but they were there. It was time I chose what was emblazoned into my skin.
It was Ötzi who sealed my fate as an archaeologist when he was discovered in 1991. At the same time as I was enthralled with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, I was amazed by the incredible preservation of this man from the Alps, down to his tattoos and even pubic hair. Now, Ötzi has 61 separate tattoos, apparently, and I was never going to recreate them all, particularly as many would be on areas of my body that never see the light of day. So I chose three sets that I could most easily show to people.
There are two rough lines on his right wrist that some have suggested are not tattoos at all but the marks of a tight band wound round his wrist, but if that’s the case, why are they just on the upper surface of the arm? Then I chose a cross on the outside edge of my knee joint and three circles on my ankle. Ötzi actually has two but I decided on one circle for every member of my immediate family.
One of the most fascinating things about Ötzi’s tattoos is that many of them fall on acupuncture points that are used to relieve joint pain. Sure enough, from x-rays of his bones, the tattooed joints seem to suffer from osteoarthritis. So the tattoos were medicinal. This is how I interpret my tattoos to children and adults alike when I dress as a prehistoric person. I am my own replica object.