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Keywords:

  • Melanesia;
  • West New Britain;
  • Vanuatu;
  • use-wear/residue analysis;
  • stemmed tools;
  • flakes;
  • obsidian;
  • quartz

Abstract

Use-wear/residue analysis of small flakes and stemmed tools made of obsidian and quartz, from middle and late Holocene archaeological sites in Melanesia, indicates their use in piercing and cutting soft skin. This skin-working activity was possibly associated with occasional manufacture of items from animal skins but it is more likely these tools were used for tattooing, scarification or medical treatment of the human body. Tattooing by cutting and piercing and scarification are an integral aspect of social behaviour among peoples in the Pacific region. I argue that the practice of tattooing by cutting and piercing were both used in Melanesia in the middle Holocene, but tattooing by piercing became more common in the late Holocene.