These 3,000-year-old sharpened turkey bones are likely the oldest tattooing tools ever found. Archaeologists uncovered the tools at a historical Native American site in Fernvale, Tennessee. Years later, researchers from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology and colleagues analyzed the bones and determined that they are stick-and-poke tools. They even found remnants on the bones of iron oxide and carbon, used as pigments at the time. From their paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science:
Analyses of archaeological bone tool assemblages from the southeastern United States rely principally on morphological classification systems to delineate typologies and infer artifact function. Under these systems the actual purpose of pointed bone artifacts generically classified as "awls" is frequently overlooked. In this study we move beyond basic morphological classification by combining zooarchaeological analysis, technological assessment, use-wear analysis, and materials science studies to examine an assemblage of bone tools from an ancient Native American site in central Tennessee. Our analysis reveals that approximately 3500–1600 BCE, occupants of the Fernvale site employed sharpened turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) bone tools as tattooing implements, and that both red and black pigment remains are directly associated with these artifacts. These materials comprise the earliest directly-identified tattooing tools to date, and demonstrate the persistence of Native American tattooing in southeastern North America over at least three millennia.