Dating caucasian rugs
Due to the lack of preserved skin from ancient times - mummified bodies being exceedingly rare - the journey in search of the earliest tattoos finds us on our knees examining fragments of clay figurines that display tattoo-like etchings.
Detectives may even pick up the trail in a stanza of ancient poetry, or resort to examining myth.
From Ancient Greece comes the famous story of Helen of Troy, in which the legendary beauty is abducted by the Trojan, Paris.
For his protection, Paris was tattooed as a charm against the arrows of Helen's jealous husband.
Captain Cook's crew would have been even more astonished to learn that Western cultures, too, had a long but forgotten history of tattooing.
So complete was European amnesia that, even now, it's difficult for many anthropologists to accept that Caucasians may have been responsible for disseminating tattoo culture (and other inventions) to much of the world.
This operation, which is called by the natives "tattaw", leaves an indelible mark on the skin.
The point is - for tattoo hunters both professional and amateur - the ancient myths of Paris and Orpheus speak of tattooing.
Animals were the dominant tattoo motifs in ancient times, and represented personal or clan totems, sometimes imbuing the believer with its spirit.
If it was a case of 'mind over matter', it's a psychic feat that today's tattoo aficionado still engages in.
The school of 'depth psychology' suggests that archetypal stories (myths) and images underpin our culture and are synonymous with 'soul'.
But the old-fashioned scientist in us wants to follow a real trail of blood back to 'where it all started'.
Disembarking at Plymouth, Cook must have been less excited by his cargo of exotic fruits than by his logbooks full of celestial observations from the Southern Hemisphere, and his journals describing Polynesian culture.