Researchers at Washington State University have (re)discovered the oldest tattooing tool in all of western North America. [Photo of tool on right, via Newsweek.] This 3-1/2 inch long, dual-needle tattooing instrument made out of two prickly pear cactus spines bound to a skunkbush sumac stem/handle with yucca fiber, had been excavated in 1972 from a midden at the Turkey Pen archaeological site in southeastern Utah. Based on the tool itself and human coprolites and maize cobs found in the same midden, the find was dated to 79-130 CE, about 2000 years ago during the Basketmaker II period. Similar tattooing tools retrieved from sites throughout the US Southwest were much more recent, having been dated to about 1100-1280CE. In other words, the Turkey Pen artifact now suggests that tattooing in our region had been practiced for at least 1000 years longer than previously believed.
What makes this find even more exciting, is that Andrew Gillreath-Brown, an anthropology PhD candidate, rediscovered this artifact while inventorying archaeological materials that had been in museum storage in a legacy collection for over 40 years. Proof positive that a number of today's archaeological discoveries can be achieved in a climate-controlled environment far removed from the sites of the original excavations. Everything should be examined, and reexamined, over and over again.