Fourteen percent of Americans have body piercings — that’s nearly 50 million people.
So, it’s commonplace to see people with piercings, but these little baubles may lead you to wonder how and why people started giving themselves such body modifications in the first place.
The history of body piercings is just as interesting as these jewels that sparkle on people’s ears, faces and across their bodies. Here’s everything you need to know.
Body Piercings Have Ancient Roots
Nowadays, you can find beautiful body piercings online at sites like bodypiercejewelry.com. That certainly wasn’t the case when the first-ever body piercings appeared.
Historians say that the earliest evidence of piercing came from a 5,000-year-old mummy. When experts exhumed the ancient body, they found that it had a pierced ear.
That’s not the only ancient evidence from the 9th century BC — that’s nearly 3,000 years ago. The evidence in question is an etching in stone that shows a man with a pierced ear.
Around the same time, ancient Egyptians loved their piercings, too. When archaeologists discovered the mummified body of King Tut, they were able to determine that he had pierced ears. In fact, men living during this time often had their ears pierced.
But it wasn’t just earrings that the Ancient Egyptians loved. They are one of the earliest — and, until modern times — only known civilizations to pierce their bellybuttons. AT that time, having a bit of gold jewelry dangling from your belly was a sign of your class. So, the blingy bits showed people that you were a high-class member of society.
Earrings Had Their Place in Ancient Rome, Too
More than 1,000 years after King Tut’s reign, men were still rocking piercings, but they were not in Egypt — they were in the bustling metropolis of Rome. Julius Caesar himself, who ruled the Roman Empire from 49 to 44 BC, wore earrings and played a large part in bringing them back into fashion.
After the Italians, the next major body piercing moment came in the 15th century. So, nearly 2,000 years after Julius Caesar wore his earrings, men in England wore a single bauble themselves. This was during the Elizabethan era, the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
At this time, men worse earrings as the Ancient Egyptians did. Their single danglers were a way to show off how wealthy they were without having to whip out, say, a bag of gold coins.
Beyond that, people wore ear piercings here and there, although they weren’t as much of a cultural centerpiece as they were for the ancient Egyptians, Romans or Elizabethans. For example, sailors often had their ears pierced throughout history.
What About Other Types of Body Piercings?
It took a bit longer for other types of body piercings to catch on like earrings did. Although there’s mention of a nose piercing in the Bible, they weren’t a popular accessory until the 16th century.
Many women started getting studs and rings through their left nostrils in 16th-century India. The left side of the body was closely linked with fertility and femininity. So, people thought that having a piercing on the left would lessen the pain of menstruation, childbirth and other women’s-centric health concerns.
After that, it took until the 20th century for people in the west to start rocking nose rings, too. Specifically, during the hippie movement of the 1960s and 70s, people started getting their noses pierced.
Don’t confuse nose piercings with septum piercings, though. These middle-of-the-nose rings were popular much earlier than nostril-based nose rings.
South American tribes — the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans — wore septum piercings as an ode to their sun and water gods. And aboriginal Australians wore them, too, although they did so as a way to create their ideal beauty standard. The septum piercing gives the nose a flatter appearance, which they believe to be more beautiful, so they have long worn the accessory, too.
Speaking of the Mayans and Aztecs, they pierced their tongues, too. They did this most often between the 1300s and 1500s.
Again, tongue piercings were a way to make a blood sacrifice to the gods. If you’re squeamish, don’t read the next bit of the sentence: they would put thread through the piercing first to cause it to bleed more before sealing it with a piercing.
Between then and modern times, tongue piercings fell out of fashion. But in the 1980s, people rediscovered them, and not for ritualistic purposes. Instead, tongue piercings are just a style statement — would you ever get one?
Interestingly, nipple piercings have a long history, too. Ancient Roman men opted to have their nipples pierced as outward proof of their virility. They also used them as a way to show they valued camaraderie with other men, interestingly enough.
It took a while for women to start piercing their nipples like men did. Specifically, 14th-century French dresses were made to be low-cut enough to show off their wearer’s nipple rings.
Nipple piercings came back into fashion at the turn of the 20th century. Victorian-era women wore them and used them as a way to enhance their sexual pleasure. Some doctors even used to recommend them to help women who were breastfeeding to get more milk to flow.
We already mentioned that the Ancient Egyptians loved their bellybutton rings. After them, though, no one really wore them — that is, until the 1990s rolled around.
The supermodels of this era made bellybuttons a must-have accessory of the time. You may think they’ve fallen out of fashion since, but style forecasters beg to differ. Instead, they say that these belly baubles are very much on their way back in.
What Will Your History With Body Piercings Be?
Today, body piercings are so popular — it’s not surprising to see someone with an eyebrow, ear or body piercing, is it? It’s hard to believe that these trendy little accessories have been around for hundreds or even thousands of years. Every piercing you have is a piece of history, so wear it with pride.
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