According to a Discovery News article ancient Australian art featured motifs that made it onto ancient islanders' skin.
"Distinctive design conventions can be considered markers of social interaction so, in a way (they are) a cultural signature of sorts that archaeologists can use to understand ways people were interacting in the past," author Liam Brady of Monash University's Center for Australian Indigenous Studies, told Discovery News.
For the study, published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, Brady documented rock art drawings; images found on early turtle shell, stone and wood objects, such as bamboo tobacco pipes and drums; and images that were etched onto the human body through a process called scarification.
"In a way, a scarred design could be interpreted as a tattoo," Brady said. "It was definitely a distinctive form of body ornamentation and it was permanent since the design was cut into the skin."
"Evidence for scarification is primarily via (19th century) anthropologists -- mainly A.C. Haddon -- who took black and white photographs of some designs, as well as drawing others into his notebooks in the late 1800's," he added....Brady determined that within the body art, rock art and objects, four primary motifs often repeated: a fish headdress, a snake, a four-pointed star, and triangle variants. The fish headdress, usually made of a turtle shell decorated with feathers and rattles, was worn during ceremonies and has, in at least one instance, been linked to a "cult of the dead."
The triangular designs, on the other hand, were often scarred onto women's skin and likely indicated these individuals were in mourning.
I just love it when connections like these are made. And I'm especially pleased since these snake designs inspired my own spiral snake tattoo. (Which I can't post because the USB cord I use with my camera has quit on me.)