Do you ever wonder why we stick jewelry in the weirdest places of our body? When you see that video about a tongue or lip piercing going terribly wrong, do you ever want to know how it all started?
Do you know anyone who looks like this?
According to the Guinness Book of World Records Elaine Davidson is the “Most Pierced Woman” with over 9,000 piercings as of 2012. Wow. She might have more by now…
While I just have my ears pierced, I have to say that piercings give people a nice edge. The history of putting objects into the body dates back at least 5,000 years, but why did people do it?
The first record that we have is from Otzi the Iceman, the oldest mummy that was discovered half-frozen in a glacier in Austria by some tourists. It turns out he had pierced ears with holes ranging from 7-11 mm in diameter. He also had over 50 tattoos! It is believed that Ötzi lived around 3,300 BC, so it’s clear that ear piercing has been a relatively constant and important part of our culture practically since the dawn of humanity.
There is a lot of evidence from historical records and archaeological findings demonstrating that ear and nose piercings have been popular around the world. Piercings demonstrated many things from spirituality to wealth, to prostitution, to protection.
Tribes would pierce their ears for magical purposes. Believing that demons and spirits were repelled by metal, the tribes wore metallic ear piercings to prevent the bad spirits from entering through the ear. That’ll show them!
2000 years after Otzi, in ancient Egypt (around the time of King Tut) the trend was still going strong, with the boy king also displaying evidence of wearing earrings, along with many other Ancient Egyptians. They were usually worn to display their wealth and portray beauty. Different types of body piercings were restricted only to the royal family. It is said that only the pharaoh could pierce his navel and anyone else that did so would be executed, but there is not really evidence that this story is true…sorry to disappoint. The rumor is much more exciting!
The first recorded mention of nose rings is in Genesis 24:22. When Abraham decides to find a wife for his son Isaac, Rebekah is given a gold nose ring. It is still a common practice among the Berber and Bedouin peoples of North Africa and the Middle East for the husband to give his bride a gold nose ring when they are married. The size of the ring indicates the wealth of the family, and, if a death or divorce occurs, the wife can use the gold in her nose to sell and support herself. It’s financial security that you can wear!
Mughal emperors brought the practice to India in the 16th century. A stud or ring is often worn in the left nostril by women, as the left side is associated with female reproductive organs. The piercing is supposed to lessen the pain of birth and menstruation.
In Ancient Rome, earrings continued to be in fashion as a mostly male accessory, with Julius Caesar himself wearing them during his reign. Men would also pierce their nipples to signify strength and virility and was a badge of honor that demonstrated their dedication to the Roman Empire. Well if Julius Caesar had them then it must be true…
In the mid-14th century, Queen Isabella of France introduced “garments of the grand neckline,” dresses with such low necklines — sometimes to the navel — that the nipples were often openly displayed. As such, nipple piercing became popular and the jewelry usually matched the dress. Ouch!
In the Elizabethan era of late 16th century Britain, any man of the nobility had at least one ear piercing to show off his wealth. Around Europe hairstyles that showed the ear became popular and earrings became the fashion – you might remember this famous painting –The Girl With the Pearl Earring by Vermeer shown here (also played by Scarlett Johansen in the movie).
Sailors throughout history would also pierce their ears, knowing that if they were to die at sea, the earring recovered from their body could pay for their funeral.