In the same week that Democrats announce they’ll hold hearings to probe why Trump’s Interior Department shrank Bears Ears National Monument by 85%, the internet is abuzz with this image. Archaeologists have identified this artifact as a 2000-year-old tattooing instrument, unearthed from Bears Ears in Utah.
New findings published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports this week show that this tool, found at the ancient Native American site, is a tattoo needle fashioned from cactus spines that was created between years 137–215 CE.
The findings reveal new information about how body adornment and tattooing were practiced among indigenous people in this region. From Redefining the age of tattooing in western North America: A 2000-year-old artifact from Utah , from archaeologist Andrew Gillreath-Brown and colleagues and published on February 28: “We report the earliest evidence of tattooing technology in western North America through recent work on a legacy collection from the Turkey Pen site, located in southeastern Utah within the Greater Bears Ears Landscape, and curated at the Washington State University (WSU) Museum of Anthropology for 40 years. Based on morphological attributes, we identify this implement as a hafted cactus spine tattoo tool. The artifact was extracted from Layer C-4 of a well-stratified midden. (…) A date of 1833 ± 31 RCYBP (calibrated to 176 CE [137–215 CE]) was returned on a human coprolite from the layer containing the tattoo tool. We describe rigorous and comprehensive analysis of the Turkey Pen tattoo tool, including scanning electron microscopy (SEM) analysis, portable X-ray fluorescence (pXRF), energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX), and experimental tattooing. This find presents a heretofore-unidentified artifact type from the region during the Basketmaker II period (ca. 500 BCE – 500 CE), and thereby provides a valuable comparative example for future collections analysis, while simultaneously extending the antiquity of Native American tattooing in western North America back to the first century CE. From David Anderson at Forbes : The artifact consists of two prickly pear cactus […]