2700 year old Tongan tattoo kit discovered

A set of four tiny combs from the Kingdom Tonga might be among the world's oldest tattoo kits- which had been sitting in storage in an Australian university for decades. A team of researchers recently reassessed the artifacts and found that the combs — two of which are made from human bone — are 2,700 years old.



The small combs from Tonga were found in an ancient dump during an excavation at an archaeological site on the Tonga island of Tongatapu in 1963.


The artifacts had been in a storage facility at the Australian National University in Canberra, and then were assumed lost after a fire.


But when the artifacts were found intact in 2008, researchers decided to carbon-date the tools to determine their age.


“Through directly dating a sample from one of the combs (the blades that drove the ink into the dermis layer of skin), we determined that the four artifacts were 2,700 years old — much older than originally thought,” says Associate Professor Geoff Clark, from the Australian National University's School of Culture, History and Language.


It's only recently that archaeologists have begun to recognize prehistoric tools that were used to make tattoos.


In 2016, archaeological experiments showed that 3,000-year-old volcanic glass tools were likely used for tattooing in the Solomon Islands.


In the Pacific, tattooing has a long history. The unique and powerful designs made an impact on early European explorers to the region, and the return of tattooed sailors, beachcombers, and Indigenous peoples to Europe created lasting interest in the practice.


Ultimately, it was this contact between European and Pacific cultures that led to the vibrant modern tattooing traditions and the spread of Polynesian inspired tattoos all over the world today. (Ironically, in the 19th century missionaries suppressed tattooing in parts of the Pacific and in Tonga itself, people had to travel to Samoa to be tattooed.)


"This discovery pushes ... the date of Polynesian tattooing right back to the beginnings of Polynesian cultures around 2700 years ago.


“Despite the importance of tattooing to past and current Pacific peoples, we don’t actually know if it was something that arrived with the first human colonists to the islands around 3,500 years ago – or if it was invented at some point afterwards.”
Associate Professor Clark said with this discovery researchers know that the complex inline tattooing combs were already present in Tonga almost 3,000 years ago, “they may very well have been invented there”.


For more information read the full research here.