Oceanic Tattooing and the Implied Lapita Ceramic Connection

  • Wal Ambrose Archaeology and Natural History, School of Culture, History and Language, The Australian National University, Canberra act 0200, Australia
Keywords: Oceania, dentate Lapita, tattoo tools, comparative technology


Skin ornamentation is a universal human practice, whether by painting, incising, burning or tattooing, and it ranges in importance from simple personal adornment to a ceremonially aligned practice executed by specialists on high-ranking individuals. In Oceania, as elsewhere, tattoo is widely accepted wherever suitable skin, on any body part, can bear its permanent visible designs (van Dinter 2005; Krutak 2007). The ethnographic picture of the richly tattooed Polynesians has been seen by some as an expression of a decorative style applied in the dentate stamp designs of Lapita pottery from more than 2500 years ago. This view rests on an implied connection between the acts of tattooing on skin and dentate stamping on pottery. The persistence of complex designs over such a long time span may be doubted where surface decoration on later pottery in the region changed quickly in style and technique. The evidence for tattoo alone is hard to find in the archaeological record, but what little there is suggests a more complex story. This paper examines the comparative technologies between the complex multi-point Polynesian tattooing kits recorded ethnographically and Lapita stamped decoration. The survey shows a clear lack of equivalence between the tattooing tools of the Bismarck Archipelago or any putative ‘Lapita Homeland’, pottery dentate stamps and the implements of Polynesian tattoo.
How to Cite
Ambrose, W. (1) “Oceanic Tattooing and the Implied Lapita Ceramic Connection”, Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 3(1), pp. 1-21. Available at: https://www.pacificarchaeology.org/index.php/journal/article/view/73 (Accessed: 17January2022).