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The history of piercing – ancient tradition to 80’s rebellion

The history of piercings goes back thousands of years where a range of body adornments were worn for reasons including tribal culture, to represent class or as part of a ritual.  From lip and tongue piercing as an ancient African tradition, ears and nose piercing in Israel and nipple piercing in Rome (ouch!!) piercing, not as we know it today, has been a part of global society for around 5000 years!

The earliest known piercing was discovered on “Otzi the Iceman”, the oldest mummified body in the world, found in 1991 in an Austrian Glacier, where tests show him to be over 5000 years old.  He was discovered to have had pierced ears!

Ear piercing is understood to have become prevalent around 3000BC in the Middle East to represent the wearers religious, political or even tribal connection.  It is also suggested that ears were pierced due to the belief that spirits and demons could enter the body through the ear, so by inserting metal, it would fend off these spirits.

Adorning earrings in Roman times was a display of wealth and more commonly seen on men than women.  This was still very much the case in the 1600s where men in Europe often selected the most lavish earrings to portray excessive wealth.  When you see portraits of Charles I, you will notice how an opulent earring is often prominent!

Sailors are commonly depicted with hoop earrings.  It has been suggested that it could represent experience of the number of voyages, or crossings of the equator, or more likely that if a sailor drowned at sea, the earring could pay for the funeral!  Looking back at Elizabethan explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Frances Drake, they are seen sporting earrings too!

In stark contrast to history, for many years, Western culture perceived ear piercing as effeminate and not at all masculine.  This has rightly changed over more recent times.

Fast forward to the 70s and 80s where we witnessed a huge surge in the popularity of piercing which went hand in hand with the punk phenomenon.  Piercings symbolised rebellion and nose piercing rocketed with the more conservative in society often disapproving!

In stark contrast to history, for many years, Western culture perceived ear piercing as effeminate and not at all masculine.  This has rightly changed over more recent times.

Nose piercing itself is believed to date back over 4000 years in the Middle East and was often offered as a gift and continues to be a tradition among some African tribes.  

In India, nose piercing was performed for a very different reason.  The jewellery is normally worn in a woman’s left nostril.  In Ayurveda, the traditional Indian approach to health and wellbeing, the spot on the left nostril is associated with the female reproductive organs and a piercing here is believed to ease childbirth. 

The process of piercing was not as hygienic as the systems that have been developed today.  The first piercings would have been simply pushing sharp objects through the skin and inserting metal!

One of the first instruments known for ear piercing was spring loaded but with a retractable blade for making the hole – the same blade would have been reused for every person (nowhere near how hygienically we operate now!).  

The next kind of systems used a needle for piercing, pushing it through to a plastic cork.  It was designed to use a new needle for each piercing, however often the same needle would have simply been reused.  Later instruments were very much reliant on the operator to sterilise the needle and back of the jewellery before manually inserting it back into the system.

Piercing systems have come on so far from the earliest methods of piercing, where we follow the highest standards of best practice, including the cleaning of all surfaces, washing of hands and wearing gloves.  The great news is that todays approved instruments all offer contact free piercing and pre-sterilised earrings.  All Studex systems are loaded without touching the jewellery and what a selection of styles we have to choose from today!

Piercing will remain a popular way of expression, whether that all important first piercing, or a new fashion accessory as a treat, we can all rest assured that the process has come on a long way from what Otzi the Iceman would have experienced.