From the Land: an Experimental Approach to Ancient Ink Composition

By Luka Molloy

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Christine Henry


The archaeological study of tattooing is a fairly new area of research, becoming a serious academic pursuit over the past decade. The foci of projects have ranged in date, region, and purpose; most recently, many scholars have engaged in experimental archaeology to further our knowledge of past tattooing practices. In this paper, we will examine tattooing practices in the Eastern Woodlands among Algonquian and Iroquoian speaking peoples during the pre-invasion period, and conduct experiments aimed at understanding tattooing pigmentation and solvents. While the subject of pigmentation is highly examined and well documented, the pigment solvent is not. This paper will examine the microwear and staining on bone needles after tattooing using four ink types, each with different solvents. This microwear will be compared to archaeologically recovered tattooing kits and to the results of other researchers’ experiments.


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