Tattoos

So, this morning, I went to a media thing at Glass Mounds, which involved a great deal of me getting up on the mound about half way and not being able to get back down. Thankfully, they don’t just let you die there, stranded on a burial mound regularly being pelted with golf balls. At least, not when other members of the media are standing there watching.

This, though, is not about that. This is about the completely unrelated awesome thing I learned from Aaron Deter-Wolf, who is an archaeologist for the state. He’s got a new book coming out from the University of Texas Press this fall about tattoo traditions in North America pre-Europeans showing up here (he’s an editor and contributor). But here’s the thing that blew my mind. He said that there’s a ton of evidence that North Americans were pretty commonly tattooed. But there’s nothing ever found at an archaeological site that’s been identified as a tool for tattooing.

Which is not to say that they haven’t found such tools–I assume the book is about what there is to see once you know what you’re looking for. But he told me that part of the problem has been these words they use to describe what they find at archaeological sites–specifically needles and pins. When archaeologists found what they had decided were obviously needles and pins, they got thought of as only sewing implements.

You could see how this could even happen to us. Say you knew very little about prison culture and you excavated a prison site and found ball point pen innards and pins in the remains of a cell. Those would get classified as “ball point pen parts” and “pins” and you might never know you’d just come across a tattoo kit, even if you knew prisoners were often heavily tattooed.

So, that is really awesome and I can’t wait to read it. I tried finding it at Amazon, but it’s not there yet, but when I googled it, I found a lot of interesting-sounding contributors. So, “Drawing with Great Needles: Ancient Tattoo Traditions of North America.” I’m going to try to remember that.

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