THE ÖTZI EXPERIMENT: COLIN DALE RECREATES ANCIENT MEDICINAL TATTOOS

Originally published in 2014. “Das Ötzi-Experiment.” TätowierMagazin, no. 215, p. 14-15.      *click on images below to enlarge

ONE CONTEMPORARY AND RENOWNED tattoo artist draws special inspiration from the ancient peoples who practiced medicinal and more spiritual forms of tattooing. Canadian-born Colin Dale of Skin & Bone Tattoo in Copenhagen, Denmark, recently celebrated his 20th anniversary in Denmark by honoring one of his heroes – the tattooed Iceman Ötzi – who was discovered on the border of Italy and Austria the same year (1991) Dale arrived in Scandinavia.

The location of the Iceman's 61 tattoos.
The location of the Iceman’s 61 tattoos.

A COOPERATIVE EXPERIMENT

Ötzi is the oldest known human to sport medicinal tattoos, and these markings were primarily focused on various joints. Incredibly, approximately 80% of these tattoos overlap with classical Chinese acupuncture points utilized to treat rheumatism, a medical condition that plagued the Iceman. Other tattoos were found to be located on or near acupuncture meridians that may have had the purpose or relieving other ailments, like gastro-intestinal problems that troubled the Iceman himself. 

Irg locating acupuncture meridians on David’s wrist. © Claire Artemyz.
Irg locating acupuncture meridians on David’s wrist. © Claire Artemyz.

In the spirit of reenactment, Dale traveled to the location near where the Iceman was uncovered with a German client David Schütze and Irg Bernhardt, a physiotherapist and Chinese medicinal expert. David, a blacksmith by trade, suffers from numerous maladies, including asthma and rheumatic joint pain, especially in the lumbar spine, right knee, right shoulder and elbow. With a bone needle like that found on the body of the Iceman, Dale spent seven hours hand-poking David with 55 linear tattoos. These permanent markings closely resemble those worn by Ötzi on his primary joint articulations.

Prior to Dale’s experiment, however, David was diagnosed by Bernhardt. Irg identified several areas on the body that Dale could tattoo to stimulate David’s Qi system. This form of medical treatment was aimed at improving his lingering medical symptoms.

Bernhardt was also present during the actual tattooing session, so that he could identify the precise acupoints for tattooing. Irg directed Dale to place more lines on particular acupuncture points in order to intensify David’s medicinal benefits. 

Colin tattooing David. © Claire Artemyz.
Colin tattooing David. © Claire Artemyz.

In summary, the following acupoint areas were marked: (Lu7) Lieque (wrists), six lines total, three on each point; (Ex-B1) Dingchuan and (Du14) Da Zhui (nape of neck), seven parallel lines across these points; (Bl12) Fengmen (below nape on back), one line on each side of spine; (Bl 13) Feishu (below Fengmen), three lines on each side of spine; (Bl23) Shenshu (lower back), four parallel lines on each side of spine; (Cv17) Danzhong (sternum) and (Ki23) Shenfeng (beside nipple), five lines across these points; (Ki3) Taixi (right ankle), four parallel lines on each side of ankle; (St36) Zusanli (below knee), six parallel lines on right knee; (Sp6) Sanyinjiao, two parallel lines on either side of lower leg; (Lr3) Taichong, three parallel bars on right instep of foot.

Close-up of Colin tattooing David. © Claire Artemyz.
Close-up of Colin tattooing David. © Claire Artemyz

CLEARLY THE TREATMENT WORKED! 

Bernhardt conducted a follow-up examination with David three months after he received his tattoos. David reported that his asthma symptoms had improved significantly, the rheumatism in his knee, shoulder and elbow was greatly reduced, his posture was much better than before, and his other medical complaints had been alleviated (e.g., no more recurring headaches, his neck tension abated, the tinnitus in his ear had disappeared, and he no longer snored in bed). David told me he felt physically and emotionally empowered and was “bursting with inner energy,” a sensation he had not experienced in some time. He felt more confident about himself and was “mentally resilient” after so many years of pain and discomfort.  

Close-up of David's wrist tattoos. © Claire Artemyz.
Close-up of David’s wrist tattoos. © Claire Artemyz.

One year after the tattooing session (October 2011), Bernhardt recorded that David’s posture continued to remain robust. His asthma symptoms had returned, but not with the same regularity as before, and occasionally he suffered from pain in his knee, shoulder and elbow. However, David reported that his headaches, tinnitus, and persistent back pain no longer bothered him. Overall, David stated that his life had become more structured and his emotional confidence and balance were completely restored.

Iceman-inspired medicinal tattoos worn by David. © Claire Artemyz.
Iceman-inspired medicinal tattoos worn by David. © Claire Artemyz.

Bernhardt concluded his study by stating how surprised he was with the overall results of Dale’s tattoo treatments.

“A similar effect may be likened to a series of acupuncture treatments (10-15) in conjunction with the use of herbs. The change in mental-emotional level is a good example that [tattoo] puncture works holistically…In my estimation, this project shows that tattooing of acupuncture points [produces] a sustained therapeutic effect. And not just for a short period of time, since it actually seems to work for the long term,” he reported. 

For more information on Colin Dale’s miraculous and timeless tattoos, please visit him at his Copenhagen studio:

Skin & Bone
Jægersborggade 47/49
2200 København N. DK
(+45) 36966043

http://www.skinandbone.dk/

Mange tak og skål!

FURTHER READINGS ON THE MEDICINAL POWER OF TATTOO!

Krutak, Lars. In Press. (with Dario Piombino-Mascali). “Therapeutic Tattoos and Ancient Mummies: The Case of the Iceman.” In Purposeful Pain: The Bioarchaeology of Intentional Suffering (D. Martin, ed.). Springer. 

Krutak, Lars. 2019. “Therapeutic Tattooing in the Arctic: Ethnographic, Archaeological, and Ontological Frameworks of Analysis.” International Journal of Paleopathology 25:99-109.

Krutak, Lars. 2013. “The Power to Cure: A Brief History of Therapeutic Tattooing.” Pp. 27-34 in Tattoos and Body Modifications in Antiquity (P. Della Casa and C. Witt). Proceedings of the Sessions at the EAA Annual Meetings in The Hague and Oslo, 2010-11. Zurich Studies in Archaeology.