Scientists reveal finding on Stone Age piercings

Researchers Uncover Evidence of Piercing Practices in Stone Age Communities

In Turkey, archaeologists have made an exciting discovery that links ancient facial piercings directly to the individuals who once wore them.

For the first time, personal decorations such as objects similar to earrings, known to be part of the Neolithic or late Stone Age culture across southwest Asia, have been found with clear evidence of their use as piercings dating back up to 12,000 years. Previously, these objects had not been directly linked to specific body parts.

The breakthrough came from the Boncuklu Tarla archaeological site in southeastern Turkey. Here, researchers found burial sites with piercing adornments placed near the ears and mouths of the deceased. The analysis showed dental wear patterns on the lower incisors, dating back about 11,000 years, consistent with abrasion from a labret, a type of ornament typically worn below the lower lip.

This discovery marks the first direct evidence of facial piercings in Neolithic people from southwestern Asia, confirming the practice’s prevalence in the early Neolithic era. Interestingly, these ornaments were found exclusively near adult remains, suggesting that piercings may have been a symbol of maturity or a rite of passage within these ancient communities.

Anthropological archaeologist Dusan Boric, not involved in the study, highlighted the significance of this finding in understanding Neolithic coming-of-age rituals.

The site of Boncuklu Tarla, occupied by hunter-gatherers from around 10,300 BC to 7100 BC, has revealed an astonishing number of decorative artifacts since its first excavation in 2012. Dr. Emma L. Baysal, a coauthor of the study, described the site as a treasure trove of adornment, with around 100,000 decorative items unearthed, showcasing the community’s love for decoration.

Among these finds were 85 objects identified as piercing ornaments, made from materials like flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian. The researchers categorized these labrets into seven distinct types based on their shape. Some labrets were found dislodged, likely by rodents, but still near the head and neck area, while others remained in place, providing concrete evidence of their use in life.

The absence of piercings among children’s burials suggests that facial piercings were reserved for adults, possibly symbolizing a social status or role within the society.

For archaeologists, such body decorations offer invaluable insights into how prehistoric peoples presented themselves and interacted with their communities and outsiders. These practices of personal expression, deeply rooted in the mythologies of traditional societies, highlight the importance of body decoration beyond mere aesthetics, serving as acts of identity construction and protection.

These adornments give us a relatable glimpse into the lives of Neolithic people, showing that the desire to express one’s identity or community through piercings and other personal ornamentations is a timeless human trait.

Dr. Baysal reflects on this connection, noting that wearing earrings is not for the wearer’s benefit, as they cannot see them, but rather for how they present themselves to others—a sentiment that has not changed over thousands of years. This insight allows us to feel a kinship with people from the distant past, recognizing our shared humanity.

Mindy Weisberger, a seasoned science writer, brings these fascinating discoveries to light, showcasing the enduring nature of human expression through adornment.