Tools in world’s oldest tattooing kit made from human bone

Back in 1963-1964 a number of bone
combs that look exactly like blades tattooist have used up before the
electric needle was invented was found at a site on Tongatapu out in Tonga. Usually finding tattoo implements are extremely rare. Tattooists are specialists, usually one person or two people, so there’s not many
to start with. So, there’s all different things that make them very interesting
and very rare. They’re made of bone these ones. We found that two of them were made
on human bones; so it’s not just that they’re made of bone, but also that two are
made on human bone. And then, because we found them all together we knew that
they were a kid and that’s also exceptionally rare. We found that there
were two thousand seven hundred years old, which makes them the oldest in Oceania and probably the oldest combs – so the
oldest blades – in the world. We looked at them under the microscope to see if we
could find any marks left behind from the types of tools, and we found that
they were being cut out of the parent bone, so if they are out of human bone or a
bird bone they’ve cut them out first with the stone tool and then they’ve
grounded them down to make a bevel using another stone, like something abrasive,
and then they’ve used either a very sharp flake, maybe out of something like
obsidian or most probably a sharp shell, to make the comb. You can see here all
the ink is still on the blade; so you got all the black ink still on that the same
part that would have been, you know, driven down into the skin. They seem to
be exactly the same design as up to very very recently, like 100 years
ago or even still used today, so if people get traditional Pacific tattoos
it’s exactly the same tool. So, it’s as if one day once they innovated them or
created them, almost three thousand years ago, they’re like this works really
well, and then they haven’t changed anything. It’s stayed the same.

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