Category Archives: NORTH AMERICA

Mexico analyzes bones and objects from 1,400 years ago found in Michoacán

Mexico analyzes bones and objects from 1,400 years ago found in Michoacán

The skeletal remains of a woman and 19,428 associated objects, found in 2011 in the archaeological zone of Tingambato, in the western state of Michoacán, were analyzed by researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), who pointed out that its antiquity dates back to 630 AD.

Mexico analyzes bones and objects from 1,400 years ago found in Michoacán
Intentional cultural modifications to the skull and teeth of the young woman found in Tomb II at Tingambato

In a statement, it was explained that the skeletal remains of the woman were found inside a burial chamber “built five meters deep, with strong stone walls and a vaulted ceiling of slabs in a spiral direction, where she was buried with a rich trousseau made up of 19,428 shell and lapidary objects “.

The archaeologist José Luis Punzo Díaz, a researcher at the INAH Michoacán Center, indicated that the results revealed the significance of this burial and of the inhumed character, placing it “as one of the most important archaeology in western Mexico, particularly Michoacán.”

Osteological and ancient DNA analysis confirmed that the skeletal remains deposited in Tomb II of the aforementioned archaeological zone belonged to a young woman between 16 and 19 years old and its antiquity dates back to 630 AD.

This according to the radiocarbon collagen analysis done at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), whose data coincides with the stage of greatest growth of Tingambato, from 550 to 850 AD, said Alejandro Valdés Herrera, a member of the research project.

Analysis of the skeletal remains with computerized axial tomography

Due to the fragmentation and poor preservation conditions of the skull, a careful reconstruction was made in the Laboratory of Physical Anthropology of the INAH-Michoacán Center, where it was discovered that it presented cephalic deformation, as well as dental modification work.

“Although these modifications were recurrent in his time, they are associated with certain groups in society, which leads us to think that he was part of the local elite,” explained Valdés Herrera.

While when analyzing his teeth, they observed that the modifications were not worn or showed evidence of use, so they could have been carried out at a time close to his death.

The studies of the materials, which began in 2016, also determined various paleopathologies, which indicate that he suffered periods of illness such as fever and a mild degree of malnutrition, although they do not appear to be the cause of death, which is still unknown.

When analyzing 18,601 elements made with seashells, it was determined that most of the beads and earrings are of the Spondylus princeps species, from the Pacific, peculiar for its orange hue, which was highly appreciated by ancient cultures.

About the 827 lapidary elements, the specialists highlighted that most of the greenstone beads correspond to a mineral called amazonite, whose origin is not yet specified, but important veins are known in the state of Chihuahua.

Lapidary from the grave goods, identified by archaeometric analysis as mostly Amazonite,

According to studies, Tingambato was a privileged site due to its location, at the entrance to Tierra Caliente and the cold mountain range of Michoacán, which arose in the year 0 and had a constant occupation until 900 AD.

Digital reconstruction of the grave goods, Tomb II of Tingambato
Digital reconstruction of the burial in Tomb II of Tingambato

Oldest Horseshoe Crab Fossil Found, 445 Million Years Old

Oldest Horseshoe Crab Fossil Found, 445 Million Years Old

Few modern animals are as deserving of the title “living fossil” as the lowly horseshoe crab. Seemingly unchanged since before the Age of Dinosaurs, these venerable sea creatures can now claim a history that reaches back almost half a billion years.

The oldest horseshoe crab in the fossil record (Lunataspis aurora, left) is 445 million years old and was discovered in Ordovician strata from Manitoba, Canada. Horseshoe crab shells are made of protein and normally are not mineralized like typical fossils, making this a truly remarkable find. Despite the age of this fossil, it looks remarkably similar to the modern animal pictured to the right

In a collaborative research article published recently in the British journal Palaeontology, a team of Canadian scientists revealed rare new horseshoe crab fossils from 445 million-year-old Ordovician age rocks in central and northern Manitoba, which are about 100 million years older than any previously known forms.

Palaeontologist Dave Rudkin from the Royal Ontario Museum, with colleagues Dr. Graham Young of The Manitoba Museum (Winnipeg) and Dr. Godfrey Nowlan at the Geological Survey of Canada (Calgary), gave their remarkable new fossils the scientific name Lunataspis aurora, meaning literally “crescent moon shield of the dawn” in reference to their shape, geological age and northerly discovery sites.

Although they are more “primitive” in several aspects than other known horseshoe crabs, their resemblance to living forms is unmistakable.

The fossil horseshoe crabs were recovered in the course of fieldwork studies on ancient tropical seashore deposits, providing yet another important link to their modern descendants that are today found along warmer seashores of the eastern United States and the Indian Ocean.

One of the fossils of the new genus of horseshoe crab (Lunataspis aurora) was photographed underwater to show some of the fine details.

This is particularly significant, explains Rudkin. “Understanding how horseshoe crabs adapted to this ecological niche very early on, and then remained there through thick and thin, can give us insights into how ocean and shoreline ecosystems have developed through deep time.”

Today, marine shorelines worldwide are being threatened by human activity, and although some horseshoe crab populations are endangered, their enviably long record on Earth indicates that they have successfully weathered many previous crises, including the mass extinction that saw the demise of the dinosaurs and many other life forms 65 million years ago.

“We do need to be concerned about horseshoe crabs and many of the other unusual life forms found on marine shores,” said Dr. Young.

“Nevertheless, we can also be mildly optimistic that some of these things have demonstrated a toughness that may allow them to survive our abuse of these environments.”

Living horseshoe crabs are extensively studied, especially in the fields of ecology and medical research. The exciting discovery of these unusual early fossil relatives adds a new introductory chapter to their remarkable story.

David Rudkin is Assistant Curator in the Department of Natural History (Palaeobiology) at the Royal Ontario Museum and holds an appointment to the Department of Geology, University of Toronto, as a Lecturer in palaeontology.

Rudkin joined the former Department of Invertebrate Palaeontology at the ROM in 1975 and began working on fossils from the Burgess Shale in British Columbia.

Humans Arrived in North America More Than 30,000 Years Ago, Study Suggests

Humans Arrived in North America More Than 30,000 Years Ago, Study Suggests

According to an unexpected finding made by an Iowa State University researcher, the earliest people may have arrived in North America approximately 20,000 years earlier than previously thought.

Andrew Somerville, an assistant professor of anthropology in world languages and cultures, says he and his colleagues made the discovery while studying the origins of agriculture in the Tehuacan Valley in Mexico.

As part of that work, they wanted to establish a date for the earliest human occupation of the Coxcatlan Cave in the valley, so they obtained radiocarbon dates for several rabbit and deer bones that were collected from the cave in the 1960s as part of the Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project.

Coxcatlan Cave, a rock shelter located within the southern portion of the Tehuacan Valley in Mexico.

The dates for the bones suddenly took Somerville and his colleagues in a different direction with their work. The dates for the bone samples from the early depositional levels of the cave ranged from 33,448 to 28,279 years old.

Somerville says even though previous studies had not dated items from the bottom of the cave, he was not expecting such old ages. The findings add to the debate over a long-standing theory that the first humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge into the Americas 13,000 years ago.

“We weren’t trying to weigh in on this debate or even find really old samples. We were just trying to situate our agricultural study with a firmer timeline,” Somerville said. “We were surprised to find these really old dates at the bottom of the cave, and it means that we need to take a closer look at the artefacts recovered from those levels.”

Somerville says the findings provide researchers with a better understanding of the chronology of the region. Previous studies relied on charcoal and plant samples, but he says the bones were a better material for dating. However, questions still remain. Most importantly, is there a human link to the bottom layer of the cave where the bones were found?

To answer that question, Somerville and Matthew Hill, ISU associate professor of anthropology, plan to take a closer look at the bone samples for evidence of cut marks that indicate the bones were butchered by a stone tool or human or thermal alternations that suggest the bones were boiled or roasted over a fire. He says the possible stone tools from the early levels of the cave may also yield clues.

“Determining whether the stone artifacts were products of human manufacture or if they were just naturally chipped stones would be one way to get to the bottom of this,” Somerville said. “If we can find strong evidence that humans did in fact make and use these tools, that’s another way we can move forward.”

Year-long journey to even find the bones

Not only was this discovery unexpected, but the process of tracking down the animal bones to take samples was more than Somerville anticipated. The collection of artifacts from the 1960s Tehuacan Archaeological-Botanical Project was distributed to different museums and labs in Mexico and the United States, and it was unclear where the animal bones were sent.

After a year of emails and cold calls, Somerville and his collaborator, Isabel Casar from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, had a potential lead for a lab in Mexico City. The lab director, Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales, agreed to give Somerville and Casar a tour to help search for the missing collection. The tour proved to be beneficial. Among the countless boxes of artifacts, they found what they were looking for.

“Having spent months trying to locate the bones, we were excited to find them tucked away on the bottom shelf in a dark corner of the lab,” Somerville said. “At the time, we felt that was a great discovery, we had no idea it would lead to this.”

Once he located the bones, Somerville got permission from the Mexican government to take small samples — about 3/4 inch in length and 1/4 inch in width — from 17 bones (eight rabbits and nine deer) for radiocarbon dating. If closer examination of the bones provides evidence of a human link, Somerville says it will change what we know about the timing and how the first people came to America.

“Pushing the arrival of humans in North America back to over 30,000 years ago would mean that humans were already in North America prior to the period of the Last Glacial Maximum, when the Ice Age was at its absolute worst,” Somerville said.

“Large parts of North America would have been inhospitable to human populations. The glaciers would have completely blocked any passage over land coming from Alaska and Canada, which means people probably would have had to come to the Americas by boats down the Pacific coast.”

New pyramid discovered in Mexico

New pyramid discovered in Mexico

Archaeologists have found a new pyramid in Tlacochcalco (modern-day Mexico). The town was a political centre during the pre-Hispanic period.

According to Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, the ruins of Tlacochcalco are located in the modern-day town of Tlalmanalco.

According to the archaeologist of INAH, Herve Victor Monterrosa Desruelle”This area,” he explained, “is a continuum of platforms and levellings, reflecting a pre-Hispanic occupation, but unfortunately, houses have been built on them, although in this case, the owner of the property where the remains were located, when he wanted to build, turned to the Institute in order to examine a mound found on his land, which when analysed revealed the structure.”

Detail of some spindle whorls found between levelling walls

Monterrosa explained that the elements of the foundation discovered are only a third of the volume of the construction, the rest was razed to the ground by the urban sprawl.

The pyramid was buried under a mound. Its base was 12 to 18 meters long and 9 meters tall. The pyramid had three levels, but only a third of the original structure has been preserved. Thus, the base originally measured 35 meters by 45 meters.

New pyramid discovered in Mexico

“In the clearance of the building, by means of approach shafts, we located different elements such as the walls, which are being attended to along the length of each facade.

Once this intervention is done, the second phase will be to give volume and solidity to the structure, which is deteriorated, especially in the north-western part, by means of consolidation and restitution works”.

Another of the specialists involved in the project, developed by the Ministry of Culture through the Centro INAH Estado de Mexico, the archaeologist and architect Ricardo Arredondo Rojas, pointed out that in the first section, a number of rooms were found with the remains of stucco floors, with which the height of the walls could be determined.

Architecturally, he said, the structure shows two phases of occupation: the first, from 1350 to 1465 – during Chalco’s hegemonic period – shows a clear Chalca influence, with a construction system that uses mortar based on lime and crushed tezontle, as well as mud from the lake as a binder, with the stone quarry work standing out for its technical work.

View of the northwest corner of the pyramidal base

The second stage, with the occupation of the Mexica Empire in this region (from 1465 until the time of contact with the Spaniards), corresponds to the phase of expansion of the base, which can be seen in the series of caissons for the foundation fillings that were constructed in this area.

“However, the quality of the work declines completely, it becomes coarser, which indicates changes in the occupation and the sense of urban space.”

“The latter shows us how they gained land from the nearby ravine, filling the structure with these small structures that supported it, which they filled with waste ceramic material from an earlier period.”

Arredondo Rojas commented that, if the original volume of the pyramidal base were restored, “we would be talking about approximate dimensions of between 35 and 45 metres on a side, in its first level”.

Detail of the tripod plate found in front of the wall of the third section on the north facade

According to the archaeological data obtained so far, both researchers suggest that it is an elite housing structure, perhaps a palace area, given that the ceramic material found at the site is fine, although it remains to be analysed.

They stressed that it is also necessary to corroborate the sequences of occupation, because even when the remains of the building are available, the archaeological material, mainly ceramics (sherds and spindle whorls), are found mixed up with the construction fills or in the deposits of the rubble.

“We need to locate and excavate more sealed contexts to determine these, so the excavations will conclude in September, and then the archaeological materials will be analysed in the office,” they added.

Herve Monterrosa explained that when people talk about sites from the Postclassic period, such as this one, they are approached with an ethnocentric view of the Mexica; “however, the one being excavated is Chalca, whose importance lies in having been, like Tlacochcalco, the head of the altepetl (in the Mexica period) and one of the five original lordships of Chalco, along with Tenango-Tepopula, Xico-Chalco-Atenco, Amecameca and Xochimilco-Chimalhuacan.

Tlalmanalco was one of the late-founded Chalco kingdoms, established in the mid-14th century, which, at the end of the Mexica incursion at the site, in the Contact stage, became the main socio-political entity of the Chalcayotl, the league of villages in the region.

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“It was in this settlement where Hernan Cortes, according to his Third Letter of Relation, spent the night to negotiate the alliance with the lords of Chalco, who would lead him to the city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan,” he concluded.

2,000-Year-Old Realistic Green Mask Found Nestled Inside an Ancient Pyramid

2,000-Year-Old Realistic Green Mask Found Nestled Inside an Ancient Pyramid

Alejandro Sarabia, Saburo Sugiyama, Enrique Perez Cortes & Nawa Sugiyama have reported this discovery,  announced this finding registered during explorations conducted in the 65-meters high pyramidal structure from 2008 to 2011.

The 116-meter-long tunnel drilled in 1930 by the archaeologist Eduardo Noguera was used to excavate 59 stratigraphic wells and 3 short tunnels by the Pyramid of the Sun project led by Alejandro Sarabia in order to enter the mother rock floor, to check the existence of burials and offerings.

“We know if the Teotihuacan’s had put anything inside the monument they would have happened at the tepetate level, so we did a quick test right at the end of the tunnel and a short conduct to reach the centre of the pyramid since Noguera tunnel was carved approximately 6 metres to the west of the centre of the monument”, said Perez Cortes. During the course of the excavation, 3 architectural structures built before the Pyramid of the Sun and 7 human burials, some of them referring to infants, were found, which were buried before the completion of the building, as well as 2 offerings, one of the great richness.

The sumptuous offering was discovered at the meter 85 of the tunnel, inside the constructive filling, “so we know it was deposited as part of a consecration ceremony of the structure, probably at the beginning of its construction more than 1900 years ago” mentioned Perez Cortes, the researcher at Zacatecas INAH Center.

The rich deposit, where a greenstone mask outstands, was integrated by several levels of objects; since the area of archaeological material extended to the south of the limits of the probing well, they decided to expand the exploration.

Objects that integrate the offering “were elaborated with different materials and techniques; a considerable amount of obsidian pieces outstand, such as projectile heads, small knives, an anthropomorphic eccentric artefact and 3 anthropomorphic figures adorned with shell and pyrite eyes, also accompanied by projectile heads”.

Among the 3 greenstone sculptures found, outstands an extraordinary anthropomorphic mask carved out in one piece, with eyes inlayed in pyrite and shell, declared Perez Cortes; the serpentine mask, according to studies conducted by Dr Jose Luis Ruvalcaba, from the National University Physics Institute (IF UNAM), is the only greenstone mask discovered until now in the ritual context of Teotihuacan.

The 11 centimetres high, 11.5 wide and 7.8 cm deep mask is different to other Teotihuacan masks because it presents smaller dimensions and has volume; it is possible that it was a portrait. A seashell was found next to the sculpture.

2,000-Year-Old Realistic Green Mask Found Nestled Inside an Ancient Pyramid

The offering also contained 11 Tlaloc vessels, most of them fragmented, placed in the centre of it. Other objects deposited include 3 pyrite discs, being the one with 45 centimetres diameter mounted on a slate slab the greatest recovered until now in Teotihuacan.

An important amount of animal skeletons was found. The skull of a feline was placed to the northeast; a canine to the south and an eagle covered with volcanic rock, to the southeast. The bird was fed before the sacrifice with 2 rabbits, as analyses reveal.  This kind of fauna is similar to the one found at offerings of the Pyramid of Moon. Researchers from the Pyramid of Sun Project at Teotihuacan Archaeological Zone (ZAT) remarked that the offering remained underwater since the humidity of the monumental structure concentrates on the base and central area.

Dr Saburo Sugiyama, professor at Aichi University, Japan, and Alejandro Sarabia, director of the archaeological zone located in Estado de Mexico, indicated that for a long time before the discovery, the function of the pyramid was linked to the underworld because of the tunnel excavated by Teotihuacan people.

“Nevertheless, objects found would be indicating that the Pyramid of the Sun –which covers an approximate area of 5.6 hectares- was possibly offered to a rain deity, an early version of Tlaloc, during the first 50 years of the Common Era”.

“Until now, we can only offer a general interpretation of the findings, although it is evident that some of them present the same distribution pattern already observed at the Pyramid of the Moon burials”, concluded the specialists.

History of “Pyramid of Sun”:

The Pyramid of the Sun is the largest building in Teotihuacan and one of the largest in Mesoamerica. Found along the Avenue of the Dead, in between the Pyramid of the Moon and the Ciudadela, and in the shadow of the massive mountain Cerro Gordo, the pyramid is part of a large complex in the heart of the city.

The name Pyramid of the Sun comes from the Aztecs, who visited the city of Teotihuacán centuries after it was abandoned; the name given to the pyramid by the Teotihuacanos is unknown. It was constructed in two phases. The first construction stage, around 100 A.D., brought the pyramid to nearly the size it is today.

The second round of construction resulted in its completed size of 738 feet (225 meters) across and 246 feet (75 meters) high, making it the third-largest pyramid in the world, but being much shorter than the Great Pyramid of Giza (146 meters). The second phase also saw the construction of an altar atop the pyramid, which has not survived into modern times. The Adosada platform was added to the pyramid in the early third century, at around the same time that the Ciudadela and Temple of the Feathered Serpent, Teotihuacan Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent were constructed.

Over the structure, the ancient Teotihuacanos finished their pyramid with lime plaster imported from surrounding areas, on which they painted brilliantly coloured murals. While the pyramid has endured for centuries, the paint and plaster have not and are no longer visible. Few images are thought to have been included in the mural decorations on the sides of the pyramid. Jaguar heads and paws, stars, and snake rattles are among the few images associated with the pyramids.

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It is thought that the pyramid venerated a deity within Teotihuacan society but the destruction of the temple on top of the pyramid, by both deliberate and natural forces prior to the archaeological study of the site, has so far prevented identification of the pyramid with any particular deity. However, little evidence exists to support this theory.

Archaeology news: 100 million-year-old ancient turtle fossil discovered in Texas, USA

Archaeology news: 100 million-year-old ancient turtle fossil discovered in Texas, USA

Archaeologists have discovered a new, 100 million-year-old turtle fossil in Texas, USA. The ancient remains are believed to be the earliest remnants of the side-necked turtle in North America and have unravelled some of the mysteries surrounding reptile migration from the relatively unknown Cenomanian age.

Archaeologists in Texas, USA have discovered the remains of the oldest side-necked turtle in North America. The turtle, which has been named Pleurochayah appalachius, was well adapted for coastal living and had large bony attachments to its upper arms.

The site sits on the remnants of an old river delta from the Late Cretaceous period (80 to 66 million years ago), which was believed to flow through the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Scientists have been using the dried-up river delta to unravel numerous fossilised remains over a number of years.

Archaeologists had previously discovered dinosaur and crocodilian fossils at the site.

Now, they’ve made a brand new discovery, which could transform their understanding of hard-to-track reptiles.

The unearthed fossil belonged to an extinct lineage of pleurodiran turtle – a type of side-necked turtle.

Side-necked turtles withdrew their necks sideways into their shells when they’ve threatened.

The discovery hints that side-necked turtles migrated to North America around the Cenomanian age – between 100 and 94 million years ago.

The archaeologists, who reported their findings in Scientific Reports, uncovered a number of adaptations on the turtle.

These adaptations suggest that it was a coastal-dwelling species.

In particular, it had large bony attachments on its upper arms.

The attachments would provide powerful swimming strokes, and suggested the turtle would swim with a rowing style of movement, as opposed to the modern-day flapping motion.

The newly discovered species swam in a different style to modern turtles

P.appalachius also had an unusually thick outer shell bone, when compared with its inner shell bone. It would have given the turtle even more protection from predators, especially in the marine environment, the scientists said.

Lead author of the study, and senior research specialist at the Midwestern University College of Graduate Studies, Brent Adrian, said: “This discovery provides the earliest evidence of side-necked turtles in North America.

“[It] expands our understanding of the first migrations of the extinct bothremydids [a type of extinct side-necked turtle].

“It further establishes the Arlington Archosaur Site as an important fossil unit that is revealing the foundations of an endemic Appalachian fauna.”

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The AAS has been used by archaeologists since 2009, although the river delta was first discovered six years earlier. Active excavations have been ongoing, almost continually, since then. About 2,000 individual fossils have been discovered at the site, ranging from multiple species of both animals and plants.

A Unique Native American Map Everyone Should See

A Unique Native American Map Everyone Should See

Finding an address on a map can be taken for granted in the age of GPS and smartphones. But centuries of forced relocation, disease and genocide have made it difficult to find where many Native American tribes once lived.

Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker in Warner, Okla., has designed a map of Native American tribes showing their locations before first contact with Europeans.

Aaron Carapella, a self-taught mapmaker in Warner, Okla., has pinpointed the locations and original names of hundreds of American Indian nations before their first contact with Europeans.

As a teenager, Carapella says he could never get his hands on a U.S. map like this, depicting more than 600 tribes — many now forgotten and lost to history. Now, the 34-year-old designs and sells maps as large as 3 by 4 feet with the names of tribes hovering over the land they once occupied.

Carapella has designed maps of Canada and the continental U.S. showing the original locations and names of Native American tribes.

“I think a lot of people get blown away by, ‘Wow, there were a lot of tribes, and they covered the whole country!’ You know, this is Indian land,” says Carapella, who calls himself a “mixed-blood Cherokee” and lives in a ranch house within the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.

For more than a decade, he consulted history books and library archives, called up tribal members and visited reservations as part of research for his map project, which began as pencil-marked poster boards on his bedroom wall. So far, he has designed maps of the continental U.S., Canada and Mexico. A map of Alaska is currently in the works.

What makes Carapella’s maps distinctive is their display of both the original and commonly known names of Native American tribes, according to Doug Herman, senior geographer at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.

This map of Mexico features both the original and commonly known names of some indigenous nations.

“You can look at [Carapella’s] map, and you can sort of getting it immediately,” Herman says. “This is Indian Country, and it’s not the Indian Country that I thought it was because all these names are different.”

He adds that some Native American groups got stuck with names chosen arbitrarily by European settlers.

They were often derogatory names other tribes used to describe their rivals. For example, “Comanche” is derived from a word in Ute meaning “anyone who wants to fight me all the time,” according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

“It’s like having a map of North America where the United States is labelled ‘gringos’ and Mexico is labelled ‘wetbacks,’ ” Herman says. “Naming is an exercise in power. Whether you’re naming places or naming peoples, you are therefore asserting a power of sort of establishing what is reality and what is not.”

Look at a map of Native American territory today, and you’ll see tiny islands of reservation and trust land engulfed by acres upon acres ceded by treaty or taken by force.

Carapella’s maps, which are sold on his website, serve as a reminder that the population of the American countryside stretches back long before 1776 and 1492.

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Carapella describes himself as a former “radical youngster” who used to lead protests against Columbus Day observances and supported other Native American causes. He says he now sees his mapmaking as another way to change perceptions in the U.S.

“This isn’t really a protest,” he explains. “But it’s a way to convey the truth in a different way.”

Tennessee’s Tattooing Tools Dated to More Than 5,500 Years Ago

Tennessee’s Tattooing Tools Dated to More Than 5,500 Years Ago

According to a Science News report, a new study of turkey bones unearthed in 1985 in a burial pit at the Fernvale site in central Tennessee suggests that they may have been used by Native Americans to make tattoos between 5,520 and 3,620 years ago.

Tennessee’s Tattooing Tools Dated to More Than 5,500 Years Ago
Two previously unearthed turkey leg bones with sharpened tips (top) are the oldest known tattooing tools. Two other turkey bones from the same site (bottom) may also have been used for tattooing but lack tips for analysis.

These pigment-stained bones are the world’s oldest known tattooing tools, say archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf of the Tennessee Division of Archaeology in Nashville and his colleagues.

The find suggests that Native American tattoo traditions in eastern North America extend back more than a millennium earlier than previously thought (SN: 3/4/19).

Ötzi the Iceman, who lived around 5,250 years ago in Europe, displays the oldest known tattoos (SN: 1/13/16), but researchers haven’t found any of the tools used to make the Iceman’s tattoos.

Excavations in 1985 revealed these turkey bones and other elements of a probable tattoo kit in a man’s burial pit at Tennessee’s Fernvale site, the researchers report in the June Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

Damage on and near the tips of the two turkey leg bones resembles distinctive wear previously observed on experimental tattooing tools made from deer bones, Deter-Wolf’s team says.

In that research, tattooed lines in fresh slabs of pigskin were produced by a series of punctures with tools that had tips coated in homemade ink.

Experimental tattooing left ink remnants several millimetres from tools’ tips, a pattern also seen with red and black pigment residues on the Fernvale tools.

Two turkey wing bones found in the same Fernvale grave display microscopic wear and pigment residues that likely resulted from applying pigment during tattooing, the scientists say.

Pigment-stained seashells in the grave may have held solutions into which tattooers dipped those tools.