Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see people with copious amounts of tattoos on their arms, legs, and head. But, it wasn’t that long ago that these permanent adornments were only found on a very specific group of people – prisoners. Tattoos back then were markedly different than their modern counterparts, and some were preserved for posterity in formaldehyde. The tiny pieces of history are an eerie but a fascinating look at the past.
The designs of early tattooing were much simpler than they are today. Instead of the needles we’re familiar with, prisoners would use crude tools like razor blades, broken glass, paper clips, or wires. Ink was substituted for pencil refills, charcoal, watercolor paints, or crayons and mixed with water, fat, or urine.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a study of the prisoners’ tattoos began in the Department of Forensic Medicine at Jagiellonian University, and researchers wanted a way to document their findings. While photography might have been the simpler (and more obvious) solution, prisoners’ tattooed skin was removed and preserved.
The extractions, encased in glass, are small curiosities that don’t really look like tattoos at all. Removed from the context of the body, they are symbols for crimes like burglary, rape, and prostitution. (Via Scribol)