Cultures all around the world have been using different forms of body art to express themselves and their beliefs for thousands of years. One of these forms of body art that has stood the test of time is body piercings. The oldest mummified remains ever discovered, dating back at least 5,000 years, had earrings in the grave in which the body was found. Throughout all times after (and maybe even before), people in almost every continent on the planet have participated in some form of body modification in the form of piercings.
The oldest earrings ever found in a grave have been dated back to 2500 BCE. This means that people centuries ago were wearing jewelry in their ears. Even back in Biblical times, people have been reported to wear earrings. In some areas of the Pacific Northwest, people wore earrings as a sign of wealth and nobility. This was because the materials that earrings were made of were very valuable at this time. Sailors in the Middle Ages believed that if they pierced one of their ears, their long-distance vision would improve. This practice was also employed because the price of the gold to make an earring could pay for a Christian burial if a sailor’s body washed up somewhere. In more modern times, earrings have gone both in and out of style, especially in European countries; however, they are currently the most popular piercing for both men and women.
Nose piercings also have a long history, especially in Indian culture. Even today it remains customary for Hindu women to wear a stud in their left nostril in order to indicate that they are of childbearing age. This piercing is typically done the night before the Hindu woman is to wed. Piercing of the nose was also known to be popular in Aztec, Mayan, and New Guinea cultures; however, these piercings were typically done in the septum and used feathers and bones rather than the types of jewelry we are familiar with today.
Piercing and stretching of the lips has been around culturally for hundreds of years. People of the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia still stretch their lips with plates to this day. Piercings of the labrets were seen as status symbols for some North American cultures, but this trend soon vanished with the influence of Western societies. In some rituals of the Aztec and Mayan cultures, tongues were pierced with thorns. The blood that dripped from these piercings would then be sacrificed to the gods.
Typical body piercings include navel, nipple, and genital piercings. Records of genital piercings range from the Kama Sutra to the Talmud. While the reasoning for this piercing differs, it was most commonly found in men. Nipple piercings have also been majorly used by men. In Ancient Rome, nipple piercings in men were seen as a sign of masculinity. They were also used as a rite of passage for sailors. As for navel piercings, it has been rumored that this was practiced in Ancient Egypt, but the validity of this claim is still under investigation. However, we can see today that navel piercings are a very popular trend for women young and old.
As evidenced by the many years of body piercing history, this has been a practice that has been around for centuries. And while people may have differing opinions as to its aesthetic appeal, it seems safe to say that body piercings aren’t going anywhere.