Ear piercing has been considered fashionable for both men and women in the western world at various historical periods. The practice of piercing the earlobe has been especially stylish from since the 1990s well into the early years of the 21st century. However, as evidenced from the mask of Tutankhamun found in an archaeological dig in Egypt, ear piercing has long been around, and it is considered to have spiritual and cultural meanings in many societies.
Oldest Evidence of Ear Piercing
In 1991, the remains of what is believed to be the oldest mummified body were found in an ice block in Austria. On closer inspection of the mummy, it was found that the ears of the mummy were pierced. This indicates that ear piercing was in practice even about 5000 years ago, which is the approximation of the age of the mummified remains.
Ear Piercing Throughout History
There are different cultural significances of ear piercing. Ted Polhemus, an American anthropologist, believes that ears were first pierced because primitive tribes feared that evil spirits and demons could enter the body through the ears. Piercings allows the demons and spirits to slip through the lobes. He also claims that in many societies, piercing of earlobes is a ritual to celebrate puberty.
Ear Piercing in the Colonial Era
At the time of colonialism, Europeans were influenced by the ear piercing traditions of both Native Americans and East Indians. Sailors in those times believed that piercing of ears could help improve eyesight. If the bodies of those who died at sea were washed down on a shore, they were given a decent burial if their ears were pierced.
Ear Piercing in Tribal Culture
Many African, Asian and South American tribes are known to have various piercings all over their body. The African Samburu warriors wear ivory ear plugs as a sign of bravery and manhood, and other tribes like the Masai and Pokot wear several ear rings in their ear lobes. Some of these tribes also stretch the ear lobes. Ear piercings were also considered symbols of female adornment.
Modern Ear Piercing
In early years of the 21st century, ear piercing is one of the most common body arts. Piercing the ear is considered fashionable for both men and women. While traditionally only the ear lobes or the cartilaginous portions of the ears were pierced, in the modern times, almost every part of the ear is pierced and earrings and studs are worn. Ear piercing has become a commercial activity and there are many piercing shops that use tools to pierce the ears.
References and ResourcesPainful Pleasures: Body Piercing History
Hobby and Entertainment: The History of Contemporary Body Piercing