Much of what we can read about the history of body piercing has been exaggerated and told as nice fairytales. So eventually there’s no way of telling what truth is, and what is lies.
For example, there is no historical evidence that the Roman legionnaires had their nipples pierced. Many information sources on the Internet claim this to be a fact; however, this is a typical body piercing myth. You know – someone makes such a statement, and then the rest of the blogs and websites just pick up the news and spread tem around.
What is known for sure about history of body piercing is that practically all the tribes starting from American Indians and ending with Australian Aborigines knew body piercing as a common practice.
It’s been done as a ritual of initiation, for example, by New Guinea, Solomon Island and Australian Aborigines who would pierce septums of young boys when they reached manhood. Also Shawnee tribe in the Northern America were known to have their septums pierced and Kuna people in Panama wear septum body jewelry to these days.
But no doubt that the oldest type of body piercing is the earlobe piercing. The oldest evidence of humans piercing their bodies can be found in mummified bodies. One of the eldest of such kind – Ötzi – allegedly had earlobe piercing and it was even stretched to a size 7–11 mm making him the first plugged man in the known human history!
This mummy is dated back to around five and a half thousand years ago, and around this time the ancient Sumeria, Assyria, and Babylonia civilizations have also recorded their first body piercing appearances.
Ear piercing along with the nose piercing has also been mentioned in the Bible so this makes strong evidence that these types of piercing existed since very old days.
Actually all the ancient cultures all around the word have practiced ear piercing and this obviously independent origin of this type of body piercing makes us think that people began doing is somehow instinctively. Most often it was done to show off the respective person’s social status or during religious rituals.
Speaking of rituals, I have to mention tongue piercing. There is evidence that the ancient Aztecs pierced their tongues to spill the blood honoring their Gods. However, no body piercings were worn in the tongues; it was done purely as a ritual. Yet this is another body piercing myth and many info sources on the Net speculate on this claiming that the Aztecs wore tongue piercings!
Also despite many claiming the Egyptian royal families would have had privileges of piercing their navels and the common folks would deserve death sentence for it, there is no historical evidence for this either.
But now – only known facts about the history of body piercing.
Nose piercing has been practiced since 4000 BC and it’s been recorded in the Bible. Since the 16th century this tradition was spread from the Middle East to India by Moghul emperors and to these days Hindu and Pakistan women adorn their nostrils with nose studs and rings. This type of body piercing is also known at the Berber and Beja tribes of Africa, and the Bedouins of the Middle East.
Nipple body piercing has been practiced by Karankawa Native Americans who’d pierce one of the nipples and the lower lip using a cane. In the Western world historians have recorded nipple piercing in the time of Queen Isabella of Bavaria who ruled at the end of the 14th and the beginning of the 15th centuries. She was renown of introducing a fashion of exposed breasts and then the nipple jewelry was used to adorn the nipples.
Male and female body piercing has a very long history. The most common form of male piercing – foreskin piercing – and labia piercing in women goes back as far into history as the circumcision. Many Greek and Roman historians have mentioned this practice. The reasons behind it have been numerous – starting from feeling more comfortable when taking part in sports to preventing slaves having sex without their owners’ consent.
Many Polynesian cultures performed ampallang piercing – a male body piercing when the piercing shaft goes horizontally through the glans of the penis. They also performed apadravya piercings which differ only with a vertical placement.
Many other body piercing types have been devised and brought to our society thanks to piercing and body modification movements starting in the 60ies and 70ies of the 20th century. The pioneers of body piercing are such persons as Doug Malloy, Fakir Musafar and the owner of the first body piercing studio Gauntlet Jim Ward.
So what started as distinct gay and minority communities’ sexual fetishism has now become a part of mainstream fashion and I’d say that the history of body piercing is being made right now! 🙂