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Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 10:55 am
by pajo
O.k, first off I hope I'm putting this in the right place.

I've spoken with a few of the lads about this recently, since martin and the guys have a few Celts.... so I thought I'd stick it up here. Woad body paint. fact or fiction. well, to put it blunty, fiction. Now, I aint saying the picts or Celts or whoever DIDNT paint themselves. they just didnt use woad to make the paint. Now, I'm no historian (obviously, lol), but I can delve.... Out of pure curiosty, I decided to take a good hard scour of the internet last year, and through various sites found that it aint possible to tattoo or indeed paint ur body with woad. At least, not in any acceptable fashion...

now, reasons....

o.k, so we all know woad makes dye, which has at this point been replaced by indigo. however... it just doesnt work as body paint, as it cant stain the skin. U CAN apply it to ur skin using say.. talc, but that just goes hard, and dry and flakes off. and is FAIR uncomfortable, and lasts no time at all. so why not tattoo it in I hear u say... Well you could try that... but ur going to suffer. it wont let the tattoo heal properly, and if it does heal it will simply keloid like crazy. which is VERY unattractive and can go quiet crazy... oh, and did I mention it burns like hell? And after all you pain, u'll still not have a blue colour.... it just wont stay.

o.k, so where did the idea come from?

"Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem." This was mistranslated when put into english. it doesnt mention woad. but from my readings it could be a number of things, i.e dye themselves with glass/glazes etc... glass could indicate scarification, to which a blue paint could then be added (mixing scarification and tattooing, very unlikely)
glaze can just be a paint... one man, Pat Fish, a Traditional tattoo artist thinks that maybe the celts used copper for blue ink...

So, my point being, woad was almost definatly not used as a face/body paint. BUT there is a good chance something else was. Now, while typing this I actually came across a fairly straight forward page about this, by a tattoo artist, who mentions some of the things I just did, so have a look if u like :) he actually mentions the glaze thing, and mentions pat fish down near the end. its a quick basic look at the lot, pretty much the things that I just mentioned, but there ya go :) Take a look around the net and you'l find a lot more about it, from stuff simply looking at the mistranslation, to the agonies of people who have tried it out...

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 12:15 pm
by Billy
I agree Pajo, woad is very unlikely as a body paint.

And I reckon the notion of all Celts running around with blue faces, or spirally tattoos all over their bodies is probably a bit of a stereotype.

Sure they might have had tattoos. Some people, amongst some tribes/groups/kingdoms. But I doubt it was the widespread phenomenon it's portrayed as in some publications.

Few enough of the Western European Iron Age bog bodies show signs of tattooing. They might have used paint, and it washed off, but still, it's a bit of a stretch to think it was completely universal.

Le meas,

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 1:55 pm
by Nerva
Salvete Omnes!

I have to agree with you both. I came across some research last year which basically dispelled the myth. I think there may be a reference in Caesar's Gallica Bellum and perhaps in Tacitus' Agricola. I'll have a look later and see what I can find.

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:37 pm
by pajo
I know it was julius caesar who said the "Omnes vero se Britanni vitro inficiunt, quod caeruleum efficit colorem.", but afteer that, I'm clueless the rest of the txt, something to do with the gallic wars... lol

on tattoos, I know there is plenty to show that tattooing was prominent all over the world, as was piercing, scarification etc,, but as u say billy, I would wonder if maybe the thing with the picts was hyped up a bit? u know the way, make them sound more terrible than they are to scare ppl etc etc...

AA I say, I'm sure they probably did paint/tattoo but yea, def not in woad, and mayb not as much... I did see see something somewhere... gah, I was only looking at it today but forgot to save the page... but anywayz.. it was pictures of facial tattoos from coinage... I'll see if I can find the page again...

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:43 pm
by Bandraoi
Was coming at it from a tattoo and piercing perspective a few years back, had an article published in a US Tattoo mag... changed computers since so I'll have to root around try and find it. But, it basically says the same thing.

Pat Fish had a theory that copper or iron would have produced blue ish tattoos, if I remember correctly.

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:01 pm
by pajo
This is whats on the page I mentioned above, with Pats own quote.

Update: Here's what the exceptionally well informed traditional tattooist Pat Fish thought about the previous paragraph:
"...(woad) is also an amazing astringent. The tattoo I did with it literally burned itself to the surface, causing me to drag the poor experimented-upon fellow to my doctor who gave me a stern chastizing for using innappropriate ink. It produced quite a bit of scar tissue, but healed very quickly, and no blue was left behind. This leads me to think it may have been used for closing battle wounds. I believe the Celts used copper for blue tattoos, they had plenty of it, and soot ash cardon for black."
Unfortunately we need more bog bodies to prove this point!

If u could find your thingy, I wouldnt mind a read :)

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 3:32 pm
by the_power
Kai...and I think Eryk mentioned to me separately that early medieval Norse did a lot of tattooing - they also mentioned that some Norse had a tattooed line from their heart to the middle finger on their sword hand. They were certainly described as having tattos from their fingers to their necks.

The viking answer lady has some cool images of iron-age tattooing (from Scythia; )

john, wondering how much effort henna tattooing is now

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:09 pm
by tri
Check out:

Carr, Gillian 2005 Woad, tattooing and identity in Late Iron Age and Early Roman Britan. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 24:3(2005), 273-292 for a discussion in favour of the practice based on both archaeological and historical evidence.

The extract she includes from Solinus' 'Collectanea Rerum Memorabilium' is particularly interesting in the light of what Pajo was saying about the reaction of the skin to the use of woad as a tattoo pigment,

‘The area is partly occupied by barbarians on whose
bodies, from their childhood upwards, various forms of
living creatures are represented by means of cunningly
wrought marks; and when the fle�of the person has
been deeply branded, then the marks of the pigment get
larger as the man grows, and the barbaric nations regard
it as the highest pitch of endurance to allow their limbs
to drink in as much of the dye as possible through the
scars which record this.’

�re are also a list of the other classical mentions of the practice of possible tattooing/body painting outside of the usual Caesar comment.

Well worth a look for anyone researching the issue and is available as an electronic journal for anyone with access to a library.

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 4:31 pm
by Nerva
Well done tri...+Karma for you ;)

Re: Picts, Woad Etc...

PostPosted: Thu Feb 12, 2009 9:36 pm
by pajo
'ello again :)

I'm glad to see theres a lil interest in this... Kai would indeed know quiet a bit about the tattooing, the traditional I mean... and man is he good at doing it... half of my body is now a testament to that... lol!

Indeed the norse did, and from what I know, they even tattooed animals....... they liked their body modding :D

thats an interesting little bit alright tri, sounds like its saying they were using it to cause heavy scarification... ouch... BIG ouch infact, and it would certainly be the mark of a tough man to be able to put up with it....