Lars Krutack, Ph.D. (Anthropologist)
3.5 – Aliens & Mysterious Rituals (8.25.11)
Lars Krutak (Lincoln, Nebraska April 14, 1971) is an American anthropologist, photographer, and writer known for his research about tattoo and its cultural background. He produced and hosted the 10-part documentary series Tattoo Hunter on the Discovery Channel, which traveled the indigenous world to showcase vanishing art forms of body modification. Between 1999-2002 and 2010-2014, Krutak worked as an Archaeologist and Repatriation Case Officer at the National Museum of the American Indian and National Museum of Natural History, facilitating the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred and ceremonial objects. Today, he is a Research Associate at the Museum of International Folk Art.
Early life and career
Krutak was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, to Dr. Paul Krutak, a traveling geologist and university professor, who moved the family to Mexico City in 1979 and then to a series of states including Louisiana, Texas, and eventually Colorado where Lars grew up in the small mountain town atmosphere of Rye, Colorado. Krutak attended the University of Colorado at Boulder studying art history and anthropology and upon graduation (1993) he moved to San Francisco to work as an art gallery preparator for Paul Thiebaud, the son of American Pop artist Wayne Thiebaud. In 1996, Krutak attended graduate school at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks where his thesis One Stitch at a Time: Ivalu and Sivuqaq Tattoo focused on the ancient tattooing traditions of the St. Lawrence Island Yupik people.
Krutak briefly attended Cambridge University as a PhD student in 1998 but he returned stateside joining the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution) where he worked as a Repatriation Research Specialist (between 1999–2002) facilitating the return of sacred and ceremonial objects and human remains to indigenous peoples throughout North America and Mexico. Between 1998 and 2003 he also worked for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as a Democratization Analyst and Applied Anthropologist in several countries of the former Yugoslavia monitoring electoral reforms.
Since 2002, Krutak served as an Anthropological Consultant for three National Geographic Channel productions and was a co-recipient of the 2003 American Book Award in Literature for Akuzilleput Igaqullghet, Our Words Put to Paper Sourcebook in St. Lawrence Island Yupik Heritage and History. His PhD studies at Arizona State University (2005–2009) focused on the socioeconomic impacts of tourism on the Rarámuri (Tarahumara) people of Mexico’s Copper Canyon region.
Krutak appeared as a studio guest for the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens: Mysterious Rituals episode (2011) where he spoke about shamanism. In 2018, Krutak was the resident tattoo historian for the Facebook Watch series “Ink Expedition” produced by INSIDER. Later that year he was a studio guest for Netflix’s “Explained” series episode on tattoo which was produced by VOX.
Lars Krutak is married to Heidi Rauch, the founder of apparel company Belabumbum and has one daughter, Neena.
Published in 2007, Krutak’s The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women was the first book to focus on the tattooing artistry of indigenous women worldwide. It is based on one decade of field and archival research.
In August 2010, Krutak released a new coffee table book with Edition Reuss on the ancient art of Kalinga tattooing in the Philippines that is entitled Kalinga Tattoo: Ancient and Modern Expressions of the Tribal . With an introduction provided by tattooed Kalinga elder Ms. Natividad Sugguiyao, this book is the first volume to focus on the indelible arts of these Cordilleran people and is based on field research conducted in 2007 and 2008.
In his continued effort to understand how tattoos and other forms of body modification “make” the people who wear them, Krutak has acquired many traditional tattoos including hand-tapped work from the Iban of Borneo, Kalinga of the Philippines, Mentawai of Indonesia; hand-poked art from Theravada Buddhist monks in Thailand; and hand-pricked designs from the Kayabi of the Brazilian Amazon. He also wears approximately one thousand razor and knife-cut scars across his body received from other groups like the Kaningara of Papua New Guinea, Bétamaribé of Benin, the Hamar of Ethiopia, and the Makonde of Mozambique.
Krutak’s tattoo research is regularly published internationally in magazines TätowierMagazin (Germany), Total Tattoo (UK) and Skin & Ink Magazine (USA). In September 2012, Lars’ new book Spiritual Skin: Magical Tattoos and Scarification. Wisdom. Healing. Shamanic Power. Protection. was released by Edition Reuss. This photographic masterwork explores the secret world of magical tattooing and scarification across the tribal world. Based on one decade of Dr. Krutak’s field research among animistic and shamanic societies of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Melanesia, Magical Tattoos and Scarification journeys into highly sacred territory to reveal how people utilize ritual body modification to enhance their access to the supernatural.
In 2013, Krutak’s new work on Native American tattooing (i.e., Great Plains and Eastern Woodlands regions) was published by the University of Texas Press in the book Drawing With Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of Eastern North America (Aaron Deter-Wolf and Carol Diaz-Granados, eds). Also that year, Krutak’s research on ancient and contemporary practices of medicinal tattooing (including evidence on mummies) was published in the book “Tattoos and Body Modification in Antiquity” (Zurich Studies in Archaeology 9), edited by Philippe Della Casa and Constanze Witt.
Krutak’s research on the history of Native North American tattoo, including contemporary revitalization movements, was published in the 2014 book “Tattoo Traditions of Native North America: Ancient and Contemporary Expressions of Identity” distributed by the University of Washington Press.
Krutak’s new book, the co-edited volume “Ancient Ink: The Archaeology of Tattooing” with Aaron Deter-Wolf, assembles the research of international scholars and tattoo artists. Published by the University of Washington Press in November 2017, “Ancient Ink” is the first book to explore the archaeological history of tattooing through ancient tools, tattooed mummies, and tattooed objects of material culture. 
This lavishly illustrated account of the vanishing art of women s tribal tattooing is the record of tattoo anthropologist Lars Krutak s ten-year research with indigenous peoples around the globe. Spanning five continents, The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women explores the personal and collective acts of human transformation through the tradition of indelible marking among indigenous peoples, past and present. Throughout human history, women have applied tattoos to living skin in their attempts to beautify, heal, empower, or carry the male and female body into the afterlife. And as all tattoo bearers were participants in shared pain and recuperation, the skin was the location where identity and experience met. Tattoo firmly anchored indigenous values on the skin by creating a living canvas rooted in traditional practice. As ritual, tattooing re-enacted myth: it imitated the actions of the gods and ancestors who sacrificed their own skins to make them more lasting and sacred. Although few of us today believe that our own rituals can change anything, indigenous women have and continue to believe in the power of permanent body art. Sometimes these changes were due to the animism infused into what we call tattoo pigments and instruments forged from natural materials that came from the surrounding environment: a place where all life whether animal, vegetable, or human was believed to be endowed with a spiritual aspect. With more than 250 colour and black & white illustrations, The Tattooing Arts of Tribal Women not only examines the history and significance of tattooing through a comparative study of tattoo patterns and techniques, but also through interviews with the indigenous people who created them. The result is a comprehensive overview that establishes new ways of seeing and reading the messages encoded in ancient and more contemporary forms of tattooing through an exploration of these traditions worldwide.
Text in English & German. This is a photographic masterpiece that explores the vanishing art of Kalinga tribal tattooing in the remote mountains of the northern Philippines. Combining the visionary talents of numerous international photographers and the words and stories of nearly fifty Kalinga elders, Kalinga Tattoo is the first book to tell the story of this incredibly rich tradition of indigenous body art that is believed to be 1,000 years old. Here’s a rare trove of tattoo motifs, variations and interpretations which can reveal new perspectives for every interested tattooist. The journey begins with tattoo anthropologist Dr Lars Krutak’s first encounter with the last Kalinga tattoo artist, the 91-year-old Whang-Od, and is followed by the moving poetry and song of tattooed Kalinga author and elder Natividad Sugguiyao. Sugguiyao’s narratives provide an insider’s perspective regarding the history and significance of Kalinga batok (tattoo), and they establish new ways of reading the messages encoded in this ancient art form of the skin. Krutak continues with an historical exploration entitled “History of Kalinga Tattoo Art” that focuses on those cultural institutions that were deeply intertwined with Kalinga tattooing itself. Dramatic images of tattooed men and women taken over the last 100 years and colourful village scenes and landscapes accentuate the chapter. Lars’ detailed study into the significance of Kalinga tattooing proceeds with an illustrated discussion of the artistic motifs that comprise Kalinga tattoo art. This chapter, “Kalinga Tattooing Motifs” is an absolute must read for anyone seeking knowledge (spiritual or otherwise) of the real roots of tribal tattooing practices that are largely disappearing around the world today. Because warrior culture, headhunting, and religious ritual permeated nearly every facet of Kalinga tattooing practice, “Warrior Culture of the Kalinga” focuses on these customs. Krutak recounts his experiences with Kalinga warriors (old and new) and breathes life into long-forgotten Kalinga literature revolving around human sacrifice and other ceremonies associated with the human hunt. The nature of the research is outstanding and wonderfully detailed, and the words (and actions) of his Kalinga informants are truly unforgettable. What follows these texts is a remarkably beautiful photographic exhibition of the last generation of Kalinga warriors in vivid colour who earned their tattoos on the field of battle. “The Last Kalinga Tattoo Artist” looks at the life and work of Whang-Od, the last Kalinga mambabatok or tattooist, who dedicated her life to the art of her ancestors. Krutak, who lived with the master artisan for nearly two weeks, exposes for the first time in history the biography of this unique woman who for over seventy years has plied the skins of countless generations of Kalinga men and women with thorns and other natural tools. Finally, “Mark of the Four Waves Tribe” documents the artistic achievements of a growing number of young Filipino-Americans who since 1998 have each made a conscious individual effort to revive the indigenous tattooing traditions of the Kalinga and other tribal peoples of the Philippines. Whether through hand-tapping, hand-poking, or machined work, the Tribe’s dedication to “The Movement” has resulted in the revitalisation of timeworn tribal designs with new design concepts that are beginning to approach the longstanding accomplishments of Polynesian artists who guided the tattoo renaissance across the Pacific in the early 1980s. For Krutak and Sugguiyao, the Tribe represents the very best of contemporary tribal tattoo culture because they dynamically express the enduring strength of time-tested indelible traditions that firmly anchor indigenous and modern concepts of identity on the skin for all to see.
Spiritual Skin: MAGICAL TATTOOS AND SCARIFICATION. Wisdom. Healing. Shamanic Power. Protection, is a photographic masterwork in two parts exploring the secret world of magical tattooing and scarification across the tribal world. Based on one decade of tattoo anthropologist Dr. Lars Krutak’s fieldwork among animistic and shamanic societies of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Melanesia, Spiritual Skin: MAGICAL TATTOOS AND SCARIFICATION journeys into highly sacred territory to reveal how people utilize ritual body modification to enhance their access to the supernatural.
The first part delves into the ancient art of Thai tattooing or sak yant that is administered by holy monks who harness the energy and power of the Buddha himself. Emblazoned with numerous images of dramatically tattooed bodies, this chapter provides tattoo enthusiasts with a passport into the esoteric world of sak yank symbols and their meanings. Also included is an in-depth study into the tattooing worlds of the Amerindians. From Woodlands warriors to Amazonian shamans, tattoos were worn as enchanted symbols embodied with tutelary and protective spirit power. The discussion of talismanic tattooing is concluded with a detailed look at the individuals who created magical tattoos and the various techniques they used. Krutak writes about many tribal tattoo designs permeated with various forms of power and explains what these marks mean for the people who wear them. Part two of Spiritual Skin: MAGICAL TATTOOS AND SCARIFICATION is an absolute must-read-and-see for anyone seeking knowledge about the religious meanings of tribal scarification. The rituals, techniques, and spiritual iconography of scarmasters in Benin (BÃ©tamarribÃ©), Papua New Guinea (Kaningara), and Ethiopia (Hamar) expose a relatively undocumented world of permanent body symbolism created through painful and bloody rites of self-sacrifice and restraint. Text in English & German.
Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America
For thousands of years, Native Americans throughout the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains used the physical act and visual language of tattooing to construct and reinforce the identity of individuals and their place within society and the cosmos. The act of tattooing served as a rite of passage and supplication, while the composition and use of ancestral tattoo bundles was intimately related to group identity. The resulting symbols and imagery inscribed on the body held important social, civil, military, and ritual connotations within Native American society. Yet despite the cultural importance that tattooing held for prehistoric and early historic Native Americans, modern scholars have only recently begun to consider the implications of ancient Native American tattooing and assign tattooed symbols the same significance as imagery inscribed on pottery, shell, copper, and stone.
Drawing with Great Needles is the first book-length scholarly examination into the antiquity, meaning, and significance of Native American tattooing in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains. The contributors use a variety of approaches, including ethnohistorical and ethnographic accounts, ancient art, evidence of tattooing in the archaeological record, historic portraiture, tattoo tools and toolkits, gender roles, and the meanings that specific tattoos held for Dhegiha Sioux and other Native speakers, to examine Native American tattoo traditions. Their findings add an important new dimension to our understanding of ancient and early historic Native American society in the Eastern Woodlands and Great Plains.
From Ötzi the Iceman to today’s full-sleeved and pierced urbanite, it seems that body modification has always formed an integral part of the human animal’s relationship to its body. Some adornments are temporary or purely situational, such as particular body paints, jewelry or hair treatments, while others – such as tattoos – are quite permanent and, when we are very lucky, preserved in the archaeological record. The papers presented in this volume result from two thematic sessions on tattoos and body modifications in antiquity, organized during the annual meetings of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) in The Hague and Oslo in 2010 and 2011. They deal with a variety of topics, from the Pacific to the American continents and to Eurasia, including early evidences of tattooing and methods of detection, tattoo implements and experiments, as well as iconographic contexts and cultural meanings of tattoos and other body modifications, such as cranial deformations or cosmetic applications. Many new finds are discussed, and presented for the first time to an English speaking audience.
For thousands of years the Indigenous peoples of North America have produced astonishingly rich and diverse forms of tattooing. Long neglected by anthropologists and art historians, tattooing was a time-honored practice that expressed the patterns of tribal social organization and religion, while also channelling worlds inhabited by deities, spirits, and the ancestors. Tattoo Traditions of Native North America explores the many facets of indelible Indigenous body marking across every cultural region of North America. As the first book on the subject, it breaks new ground on one of the least-known mediums of Native American expressive culture that nearly disappeared from view in the twentieth century, until it was reborn in recent decades.
Ancient Ink: The Archaeology of Tattooing
The desire to alter and adorn the human body is universal. While specific forms of body decoration and the motivations for them vary according to region, culture, and era, all human societies have engaged in practices designed to enhance people’s natural appearance. One of the most widespread types of body art, tattooing, appears on human mummies by 3200 BCE and was practiced by ancient cultures throughout the world.
Ancient Ink, the first book dedicated to the archaeological study of tattooing, presents new research examining tattooed human remains, tattoo tools, and art. Examples include Predynastic Egyptian tattoo traditions, Iron Age animal motifs of Siberia, Ottoman-era religious imagery of Croatian Catholics, historical and contemporary burik designs of the Philippines, and the modern revival of birthing tattoos in Alaska. This volume contributes to our understanding of the antiquity, durability, and significance of tattooing and human body decoration and illuminates how different societies have used their skin to construct identities, transmit knowledge, and display societal values. Ancient Ink connects ancient body art traditions to modern culture with essays on Indigenous tattoo revitalization and the work of contemporary tattoo artists who employ historical techniques and imagery, demonstrating the pervasiveness of tattooing and its status as a shared human practice.