Ancient Tongan tattooing tools are oldest in region; predate recent American discovery

Kuo ma'u ha hui tātatau 'i Tonga 'o taku ko e motu'a taha ia kuo 'ilo he potu tahi 'Oseania. Ne ngāue'aki 'a e tekinolosia letiōkālafi' ki hono kumi hono ta'u 'o e ngaahi hui'i tangata tātatau' ni 'o 'ilo ko hono ta'u motu'a' kuo fe'unga mo e ta'u 'e 2,700

Nearly 60 years after it was found, a set of tools discovered on Tonga has been identified as the region’s oldest tattooing kit.

And it’s older than an ancient American tool whose identity was announced last week.

The multi-toothed tools were found on Tongatapu in 1963.

The tools, made from human bone, have recently been dated as 2700 years old using the latest radiocarbon techniques.

Tonga was the first group of islands in Polynesia to be settled about 3000 years ago.

Researchers from the Australian National University said they were the oldest in Oceania.

Associate Professor Geoffrey Clark said four bone tattoo combs had been found.

Two of the combs were made from the bones of a large birds, while the other two were most likely made from human bones.

The tools have been in storage for decades.

Clark and his co-researcher from Griffith University, Dr Michelle Langley, said the basic design of the tattooing tools had remained the same for thousands of years.

The evidence indicated that this particular design spread from western Polynesia to the rest of the Pacific.

Older than America

The Tongan tattooing kit is 700 years older than what was described only a few days ago as the oldest tattooing needle in western North America.

According to a report in Science magazine on March 1, researchers determined a pair of cactus spines stained with ink were 2000 years old.

Like the Tongan tools they had been collected decades ago and had been sitting in a bag of artefacts at Washington state University for 40 years

The main points

  • Nearly 60 years after it was found, a set of tools discovered on Tonga has been identified as the region’s oldest tattooing kit
  • The tools have been in storage for decades.

For more information

World’s oldest tattooing kit in Tonga

Ancient tattooing in Polynesia

This is one of the oldest tattooing needles in North America

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