“The colors and pictures we apply to our skin communicate our values and aspirations as well as our hopes and personal histories. Even when we adopt the “natural look” and don't adorn our skin at all, we are making a social statement. Our skin talks even when we don't; it is not a neutral canvas.” (Jablonski, 164) “Body art represents, among other things, a sustained effort to reverse the dematerialization of art by making the body matter.” (Taylor, 111)
Body painting was likely the first way in which the human animal adorned itself and attempted to express its individual status amongst the species. Long before the tools were invented required in the production of clothing; prehistoric hominids implemented embellishment of the physical form by smearing natural pigments such as hematite, limonite, manganese, and ash, as well as, chalk and charcoal. Scarification through branding as a cosmetic body alteration likely began in the early days after the invention of fire and has been carried on in various ways and by various cultures into the present day. Other forms of body alteration including diverse types of piercing and circumcision are remnants of the cultures from the ancient world.
Tattooing and deliberate scarification became other ways of personal expression early on in prehistory, possibly also before fashioned clothing. It is considered likely that the scarification techniques initially used were learned from naturally occurring scars due to accidents, animal attacks, and warfare. There is some archaeological evidence of tools associated with natural pigments that points toward tattooing occurring at least since 30,000 BCE. The oldest preserved skins with tattoos (aged 3000 – 6000 years) come from mummies from Egypt and peoples from the north that were trapped in glaciers. Autopsy of the “iceman” inferred that some of the tattooing was applied in a manner to effect medical, mystical, or magical healing because of their placement on top of arthritic joints. The presence of tattooing exists in nearly all cultures and ethnic groups across early history but mostly disappears in the classical era in Europe and the near east with the notable exception of the Thracian people. The renaissance of tattoo in modern and post-modern society owes its resurrection to Captain James Cook and the crew aboard the HM Bark Endeavour who brought back accounts of tattooed peoples, examples of tattoos upon their skin, and the Samoan word, tatau to Great Britain after their voyage to Tahiti and New Zealand.
Other forms of body modifications that have come down from prehistory include neck lengthening like that in Thailand, foot binding...