Sydney Parkinson's illustration of a tattooed Maori from Cook's first voyage.
In case you missed it on the Needles & Sins Facebook group yesterday, Anna Felicity Friedman recently posted a large portion of her tattoo-history dissertation on her wonderful TattooHistorian.com blog about the "Cook myth," which, as she writes, is "the common assumption that modern Western
tattooing somehow derived from contact with Polynesian peoples during
Captain James Cook's voyages in the late 18th century."
Here's a bit from her writing:
In addition to demonstrating that tattoos were often seen in a
positive, or at least neutral, light, a crucial subsidiary aim of this
dissertation is to debunk what can be termed the "Cook myth": the
perception in many scholarly and popular texts from at least the 1950s
that the historical origins of modern tattooing among Westerners
exclusively derived from Cook's first voyage to the Pacific and his and
his crews' encounters with tattooed people in Tahiti--that Cook, et. al.,
somehow "discovered" or "reinvigorated" tattooing. But this is clearly not the case.
A look at texts from before the mid-eighteenth century demonstrates
that many authors, explorers, scientists, etc. were wellfamiliar with
the practice of permanently marking the body with a substance embedded
underneath the skin. For example, one of Cook's contemporaries, explorer
Charles Pierre Claret de Fleurieu, writing about the Marquesan
tattooing he saw in 1791, noted the similarities to and contrasts with
the European tattooing that he said was not only common but of great
We should be wrong to suppose the tattooing
is peculiar to nations half-savage; we see it practised by civilized
Europeans; from time immemorial, the sailors of the Mediterranean, the
Catalans, French, Italians, and Maltese, have known this custom, and the
means of drawing on their skin, indelible figures of crucifixes,
Madonas [sic]. &c. or of writing on it their own name and that of
Read more, and check the footnotes for additional reference, here.