Every time a tattoo artist fires up their machine and goes to work they are continuing a tradition of body modification that started thousands of years ago. And while it is easy to imagine people being tattooed thousands of years ago it is much more difficult to picture how exactly the process went down. They certainly didn't have sterilized needles and state of the art rotary machines, we know that much. A new study by archaeologists from the Australian Museum in Sydney has shed some light on the subject suggesting that carved pieces of volcanic glass (obsidian) were used to tattoo people over 3,000 years ago.
Scientists has been baffled about how the earliest tattoos have been created for years. The belief had been that so many of the tattooing tools had been made out of materials that deteriorate over time, like wood, and that is why tattooing tools had not previously been recovered. When archaeologists uncovered carved pieces of obsidian in the Solomon Islands (a string of hundreds of islands in the Pacific Ocean about 800 miles northeast of Australia) they had a hunch that the tools may have been used for tattooing.
In order to test their thesis archaeologist Robin Torrance and her team carved their own tools out of obsidian that were close to identical to the ones recovered in the dig. They then attempted to tattoo pigskin with the obsidian and black charcoal and red ochre dye. What they found was that after performing their experiments that their tools had the same wear and tear that was to be found on the artifacts they had recovered. Their theory is made even stronger by the discovery of traces of blood and charcoal on the artifacts—a tell tale sign that they were likely used in tattooing.
"The research demonstrates the antiquity and significance of human body decoration by tattooing as a cultural tradition amongst the earliest settlers of Oceania," Torrence said in the study.
It's fascinating to get some insight about how the first tattoos may have been made. As an art form tattooing is constantly evolving and with so many new things happening, it's easy to forget about just how far the art form has progressed so far. And as you take a look at those obsidian tools up above can you even imagine what it would be like to get a tattoo from one of those? We're guessing that it won't take that long before someone actually goes and does that and we look forward to seeing it.