Wrapped in the skin of a canid, a cluster of sharpened turkey bones and mussel shells with traces of red pigment appears, to the untrained eye, like a random assortment of ancient tools. But archaeologists believe that this bundle, buried at least 3,600 years ago in a Late Archaic cemetery in Tennessee, may represent the world’s oldest surviving tattoo kit. Their findings lend insight into ancient Native American inking traditions.
The bundle was originally unearthed in 1985 but was only recently examined as a record of tattooing processes. The excavation site, known as Fernvale, was a Native American settlement found during a bridge replacement project in Williamson County. At the time, the Tennessee Division of Archaeology recovered the artifacts, then boxed them up and placed them in a permanent curatorial facility, where they remained in the dark for two decades.
When the pair examined the sharp turkey bones and bivalve shells, they wondered if the artifacts could be implements in a tattoo bundle — a specific type of sacred bundle used in indigenous rituals. The sharp bones recalled needles, while pigment residue on the shells suggested that they were used as ancient inkpots. Other turkey bones that were stained appeared to be tools for mixing pigment. The whole assortment had been placed in the grave beside its occupant, suggesting that it held significant value for that individual.
Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here: adafruit.com/editorialstandards
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.
Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.