2,000-year-old tattoo needles (made from cactus spines) found in an old drawer.

Science News reports on the historic find of skin-art tools from the American West … a discovery made by looking through some excavated artifacts that have been in storage since 1972:

Until now, several similar tattoo implements from the U.S. Southwest dated to no more than around 900 years ago, [Andrew] Gillreath-Brown and his colleagues report online February 28 in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The long-unnoticed tool consists of a wooden handle bound at the end with split leaves of the yucca plant that hold in place two cactus spines, each stained black at its tip. Microscope and chemical analyses determined that the stains likely contain carbon, a common element in ancient and modern tattooing. Experiments with replicas of the Utah artifact determined that the instruments could incise lines of charcoal-based ink onto fresh pig skin.

Ancestors of Pueblo people, who lived around the same time in the Bears Ears region in Utah where the tool was found, wielded the implement at a time when foraging was giving way to farming, the researchers say.

You can find Gillreath-Brown’s formal publication here.