Because historical and archaeological records of most forms of body art are incomplete, we still don't know where and where tattooing originated.
Tattooed mummies provide earliest concrete evidence of tattoo, and these have been found in various parts of world, from Nubia to Peru. Probably t he most ancient tattooed man is "Iceman", a Bronze Age man uncovered after being frozen in a glacier on Tyrolean Alps since 3000 B.C. A tattooed band of stripes was found on his lower back, a simple cross on inside of his left knee and more stripes on his right ankle.
There are many examples of tattooing in ancient Egypt, oldest found on mummy of Egyptian priestess of goddess Hathor at Thebes, Amunet, who lived approximately 4000 years ago, she was tattooed with parallel lines of dots. Because of her religious status, some archaeologists have speculated that her body art had spiritual or magical connotations. Others feel designs were of sexual nature.
Some of most diverse, ornate, and bizarre body art was found in mysterious and complex world of Maya between 300 and 900 A.D. For Maya, body modification, whether temporary or permanent, were done for spiritual reasons as well as beautification. Full body tattoos or facial tattoos, were acquired by men and women.
When Captain James Cook set sail in his Endeavor in 1769, he visited many islands of Pacific Ocean, most of which included tattooing as part of their culture. It's Cook who gave us "tattoo" word based on similar words in Polynesian cultures that were used to describe practice.
On board Endeavor was Sir Joseph Banks. Along with cataloging many types of animal and plant life, Banks documented indigenous cultures at every stop along way. Included in these notes are many references to tattooing. When Banks returned to England in 1771, he disembarked with a permanent memento of his voyage: very fist tattoo on a modern Western man!