A 2,000-year-old wooden implement with black-tipped cactus spines is now the oldest example of a tattoo tool in western North America, a discovery that’s shedding important new light on this ancient practice.
The tool, discovered by anthropology PhD candidate Andrew Gillreath‑Brown from Washington State University, dates back to the Ancestral Pueblo people of southeast Utah, who lived 2,000 years ago during the Basketmaker II period (around 500 BCE to 500 CE).
The discovery, chronicled in a new study published last week in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, is more than a thousand years older than other early evidence for tattooing in western North America.
Ancient Egyptians were tattooing themselves as far back as 5,000 years ago, around the same time that Bronze Age Europeans were doing the same, as evidenced by the 61 tattoos found on the mummified remains of Ötzi The Iceman.
Post-Columbian indigenous North Americans also engaged in the practice, but evidence dating further back in time is severely lacking.
Unlike the mummies of ancient Egypt and the ice-preserved remains of Ötzi, mummies are hard to come by in North America.