2,000-year-old tattoo needle found in Utah

Researchers determined a sumac stem with prickly pear cactus spines wrapped in yucca leaves that sat unidentified, collecting dust for more than 45 years, is a 2,000 year-old tattoo needle -- the oldest known implement of its kind found in North America.

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Andrew Gillreath-Brown, a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Washington State University, was conducting an inventory of items when he found the tattoo needle in a bag with other archaeological discoveries recovered in 1972 from the Greater Bears Ears Landscape in southeastern Utah.

"It is important to discover timing and occurrences of prehistoric tattooing—i.e., identifying the oldest occurrences of tattoos—because it allows us to understand the reasons behind body modification and how that has changed over time," Gillreath-Brown told Newsweek. "This research also sheds light onto the tattoo tools and the significance of Indigenous traditions that were historically suppressed following European arrival to North America."

Gillreath-Brown and other researchers believe the needle dates to 79-130 CE during the Basketmaker II period, predating an artifact found in the Aztec Ruins in New Mexico from 1100 to 1280 CE. Their research was published Thursday in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

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