Anthropometamorphosis or Tattoos: Older Than You Think

The P.I.Nixon Medical Historical Library contains many important works in the history of medicine. These historical works often give modern day readers a window into social commentary from earlier years. One such book with a very long title, “Anthropometamorphosis: Man Transform’d, or the Artificial Changeling. Historically presented, in the mad and cruel Gallantry, foolish Bravery, ridiculous Beauty, filthy Fineness, and loathesome Loveliness of most Nations, fashioning & altering their Bodies from the Mould intended by Nature. With a Vindication of the Regular Beauty and Honesty of Nature, and an Appendix of the Pedigree of the English Gallant,” reflected Dr. John Bulwer’s views condemning practices that disfigured the human body. The Anthropometamorphosis was first published in 1650 with an expanded second edition published in 1653. The 1653 edition is available in the Nixon Library. Considered to be the earliest book on tattooing and body mutilations, the book is a mixture of fact and fiction, some from traveler’s tales, some from early literature. The title of the book literally means “humanity-changing.” It is one of the first studies in comparative cultural anthropology and included a strong tone of social commentary.

The frontispiece to the 1653 edition shows a European woman, a hair-covered man and a South American Indian with full body paint standing side by side. They are being judged by Nature, Adam and Eve and a body of disapproving magistrates (including the ghost of Galen) for transforming their bodies, while the devil flies above them laughing and saying, “In the image of God created he them! But I have new-molded them to my likeness.”

Anthropometamorphosis is available for viewing in the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library located on the 5th floor of the Briscoe Library. To schedule an appointment, contact Anne Comeaux, Assistant Director for Special Collections,, or call 567-2428. A more detailed description of the Anthropometamorphosis is available through the Treasures of the P.I. Nixon Library blog at


Frontspiece to Anthropometamorphosis

Frontspiece to Anthropometamorphosis