Many people have always seen the human body as a canvas for decorating and modifying. This has been true across multiple cultures and even time periods. Body piercing and tattoos have been seen in a wide range of cultures throughout the world.
The earliest known evidence of body piercing is a stone relief from Nimrud, Iraq that depicts a man with a pierced ear. This is around the 9th century BC. Also, the world’s oldest mummified body actually had an ear piercing from 7-11 mm in diameter. This body was proven to be over 5,000 years old.
There have been many examples of body piercings throughout history for a wide range of reasons. Many cultures have used piercings to indicate an affiliation to a certain tribe or clan, to indicate status or social ranking, to enhance attractiveness, to appear fierce to enemies, or even to symbolically represent a rite of passage. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
In ancient Egypt, there were noted to be examples of naval piercings. It is said that in this culture, the royal family had gold rings through their belly buttons to denote their high class and status. There are not many more examples of naval piercing throughout history, and it seems to be a relatively modern trend. However, there are many examples of ear piercing throughout history. For instance, in the Aleutian Islands, women used to use sea lion whiskers as earrings. This was seen as a token of marrying a good hunter.
There were examples of septum piercings among warrior cultures in New Guinea as well as Solomon Island. In these cultures, the warriors would wear tusks through the septum in order to appear more intimidating and fierce to enemies. Another common piercing across history is the nose piercing. Most notably, nose piercings were especially popular in the 15th or 16th century in India.
Regardless of the historical context, it is important to note that the art of the body piercing as body modification is nothing new. Individuals who pierce their bodies today are actually participating in a cultural phenomenon that dates all the way back to the 9th century BC. This is a good fact for those who are critical or judgmental about body piercings to keep in mind. Piercings have always had cultural and individual relevance and meaning, and that is not going away anytime soon.