Ancient Tattooing in Polynesia

Geoffrey Clark, Michelle Langley

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    Angle-hafted bone tattoo combs are found on many Pacific islands occupied by people speaking languages of the Oceanic sub-group of the Austronesian linguistic family, with the most elaborate bone tattoo tools restricted to Polynesia. A critical problem in understanding the development of an Oceanic tattooing tradition based on hafted bone combs is their conspicuous absence from nearly all early sites in the region. Did tattooing with bone combs arrive in the Pacific with early Neolithic dispersals around 3,000 years ago, or was it an innovation that developed in West Polynesia that was later diffused to other parts of the Pacific? AMS dating and traceological examination of four bone combs from a site in Tonga indicate they are the oldest multi-toothed tattooing implements in the Pacific and confirm the existence of the angle-hafted bone comb technology in Polynesia ?2,700 years ago. The basic tattooing toolkit represented by narrow bone combs from the TO.1 site appear to have been remarkably stable over millennia and we suggest that the angle-hafted bone comb probably dispersed from West Polynesia to other parts of Oceania.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)407-420
    JournalJournal of Island & Coastal Archaeology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2019


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