Ancient Tattoo Kit Made ‘Out of Human Bones’ Dates Back 2,700 Years

In 1963, scientists came across four tattooing tools and an ink pot on the main island of oceanic Polynesia.

Considered the most complete set of tattooing tools ever found, the items were left unresearched.

But now, archeologists have discovered that the ancient tattooing kit could date back almost 3,000 years. The artifacts most likely belonged to a single tattoo artist from Polynesia, who was most likely repairing a broken piece before abandoning it.

Image Credit: Wal Ambrose, Australian National University.
Image Credit: Wal Ambrose, Australian National University.

Experts say that one of the tattoo combs could have even been carved out of human bone.

“As there were no other mammals of that size on the island at the time, and human bone is known to be a preferred material for making tattooing combs, we believe they are most likely made from human bone,” revealed Michelle Langley, of Griffith’s Australian Research Center for Human Evolution in a statement.

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Radio-Carbon dating and new analysis of the artifacts have revealed that the tools are at least 2,700 years old.

This makes the artifacts the oldest (and most complete) tattooing kit found in Oceania and the world.

“The question has always been: were these tools introduced to the Pacific through migration, or were they developed in Polynesia where we know tattooing has a very prominent role in society and spread from there?” Associate Professor Geoffrey Clark of the Australian National University School of Culture, History, and Language revealed.

“This discovery pushes … the date of Polynesian tattooing right back to the beginnings of Polynesian cultures around 2700 years ago,” he added.

It has been revealed that two of the tools were most likely crafted out of the bones from a large sea bird, while the others were created using bones from a large mammal, possibly human.

Finding out what the tools were crafted from is an exceptional discovery.

It is believed that Polynesian Tattoo artists used the ‘combs’ to etch the monochromatic designs the region is known for onto human skin.

“When Christian missionaries came through and banned tattooing on certain islands, people would travel to other islands to get their tattoos as they represented important aspects of their beliefs and traditions,” Langley added.

Interestingly, researchers revealed that the tattooing kit is remarkably similar to modern day tattooing tools.

“The actual tool itself—the comb shape and the way it’s used—hasn’t changed much, and that’s why this find is so interesting. These ancient tools continue to be used today,” Langley said.

The study detailing the find was published in The Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology.

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