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The Meanings Behind Common Tattoo Symbols and Designs

Acient Egyptian, West African and Native Indian Cultural Symbols


Tutankhamun And The Golden Age Of The Pharaohs' Premiere Party
Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images EntertainmentGetty Images

When I started this research on the subject of symbols, the first thing I looked into was ancient history. I am most fascinated by the symbols used in different cultures as ways of telling stories, recording events and basic communication. When you study Egyptian hieroglyphs, very little is told about the artist that drew them. But without the artists, the pictoral historians, we would know virtually nothing about these cultures.

The same is true today. One day, our modern society will be studied as ancient history. And the symbols used in our lives today will intrigue and teach the future generations. Look upon these symbols with new eyes, and appreciate them for their depth, beauty and significance. If one of them inspires you as the perfect design for a tattoo, you can be assured you have chosen something very special.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs


  • Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs
    If you really want to go on a historical expedition, start digging here. This online Egyptology lesson is only for the very serious. This complicated but beautiful form of ancient writing will help you to understand much more than symbolism.

Celtic Symbolism

  • Celtic Symbols & Their Meanings
    Discover the deeper symbolism behind popular Celtic knots and designs such as the Triquetra, the horse, and the Claddagh.


Adinkra/West African Symbols

  • Adinkra Symbology
    About's guide to African History, Alistair Boddy-Evans, describes Adinkra as "a cotton cloth produced in Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire which has traditional Akan symbols stamped upon it." However, as he points out, they are much more than pictures. Discover what these simple yet beautiful designs mean to the people that use them.
Native American/Indian/Aboriginal/Tribal
  • Native American Symbol Dictionary
    Here is a very nice collection of basic drawings used by ancient Native Americans. These items are commonly found on pottery, in jewelry and on clothing.


  • Sacred Symbols & Their Meanings
    This page is extremely informative and covers many aspects of tribal beliefs. Here you will find symbols and meanings of the Great Circle of Life, the representation of the ritual pipe, the significance of plants, animals, people and trees and much more. A really excellent resource.


Nautical History

  • Pirate Flags
    Even pirates are part of our history! Pirate symbols still inspire many a tattoo today. The "Jolly Roger" is the most famous, but there were other symbols also used to deceive or threaten their victims.

Family Crest & Coat of Arms Symbols

  • Common Symbols List
    No pictures, but the names of the symbols are given along with their meanings. See how a coat of arms can tell the story of family history.

Next Page > Part 4: Pride Symbols, Chinese/Kanji, and Common Tattoo Meanings

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