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The Rich History of Body Piercing

The Rich History of Body Piercing

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The Rich History of Body Piercing

Although piercing parts of the body – other than the ears – may seem to be a recent fashion and lifestyle trend, body piercing actually has a rich history that dates back to ancient times. Whether as a means of personal expression, to designate societal standing, or as part of religious ritual, body piercing has been around almost as long as mankind.
Navel piercing: Although navel piercing is extremely popular today, in the ancient Egyptian civilization only the royal family was allowed to pierce their belly buttons – and anyone who broke this rule would be executed!
Nostril piercing: A passage from Genesis in the Bible’s Old Testament says, “…The man took out a gold nose ring….” Originating in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago, nostril piercing is still practiced by Bedouins today. Husbands present their wives with a ring at marriage, and the size of the ring denotes a family’s wealth. The practice traveled from the Middle East to India in the 17th century, where the type of jewel worn in the nose would designate social standing. Today, Indian women typically pierce their left nostril, in a spot associated with easing the pain of childbirth. Nostril piercing traveled to the West in the late 1960s, when young people searching for spiritual enlightenment in India returned home. Punk rockers and their followers adopted the practice in the 1970s, and it was revived again in the 1990s.
Tongue piercing: Tongue piercing was practiced by Aztec and Mayan priests and shamans, in the belief that it would help them better communicate with their gods.
Ear piercing: A passage from Exodus in the Bible’s Old Testament says, “He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl.” The oldest mummy ever found, disabled dating back five centuries, had his ear pierced, and there is evidence that, over two centuries ago, people living on the Island of Cyprus pierced their ears. Tribes in South America and Africa would pierce their ears and stretch the holes; the larger the hole, the greater the person’s stature in the tribe. Everyone from the Romans to the Tlingit tribe in Alaska viewed ear piercing as a sign of wealth and stature. Even sailors pierced their ears, in the belief that it gave them better eyesight.
Lip piercing: Historically, Aztecs and Mayan men underwent labret piercing and wore ornamental gold labrets to distinguish themselves as members in high social standing. Among some African tribes, lip piercing carried religious significance, while others perceived labrets as beautiful body adornment, and for still others, it was part of the rite of betrothal.

Image taken from page 197 of ‘Kingsbridge Estuary; with rambles in the neighbourhood. Compiled by S. P. F. [With photographic illustrations.]’
Image by The British Library
Image taken from:

Title: "Kingsbridge Estuary; with rambles in the neighbourhood. Compiled by S. P. F. [With photographic illustrations.]"
Author: FOX, S. P. – Miss
Shelfmark: "British Library HMNTS 10368.e.20."
Page: 197
Place of Publishing: Kingsbridge [printed], London
Date of Publishing: 1864
Issuance: monographic
Identifier: 001282666

Find this item in the British Library catalogue, ‘Explore’.
Download the PDF for this book (volume: 0) Image found on book scan 197 (NB not necessarily a page number)
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