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 adorned them. They found that people from the Neolithic or late Stone Age, spread across southwest Asia, decorated themselves with earring-like objects as early as 12,000 years ago. However, until now, these ornaments had not been conclusively linked to specific body parts.

The breakthrough came from the Boncuklu Tarla site in southeastern Turkey. Here, researchers uncovered burial sites where piercing adornments were positioned near the ears and mouths of the deceased. The lower incisors of some skeletons, dating back about 11,000 years, showed wear patterns consistent with the use of a labret, a decoration often placed below the lower lip. This marks the first instance where Neolithic facial piercings in southwestern Asia have been directly associated with the body parts they adorned.

Interestingly, these decorative items were found only with adult remains, suggesting that piercings might have signified adulthood or been part of coming-of-age ceremonies within these ancient communities. Other evidence points to specific burial practices as part of these rites, highlighting the cultural significance of such adornments.

The site of Boncuklu Tarla, inhabited by hunter-gatherers from around 10,300 BC to 7100 BC, has yielded an astonishing array of ornamental objects, totaling around 100,000 pieces. According to Dr. Emma L. Baysal, an associate professor of archaeology at Ankara University, this abundance of decorative items indicates a deep appreciation for adornment, unparalleled by any other site. Among these finds were various forms of labrets, used for ear and lip piercings, showcasing a diversity in design and material, including flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian.

The researchers identified 85 ornaments as piercing adornments, categorizing them into seven distinct types based on their shapes. Some ornaments had shifted from their original positions, likely due to rodent activity, but others remained in place, offering clear evidence of their use in life.

This discovery not only provides insight into the personal expressions of Neolithic peoples but also suggests a broader social context. Facial piercings may have denoted social status, age, or specific roles within society. Such practices offer a window into how these ancient communities presented themselves both internally and to the outside world.

Beyond mere aesthetics, the tradition of body decoration, as evidenced by these findings, likely had deeper cultural and personal significance. It may have been tied to myths about the origins of ornaments and body decoration, reflecting the importance of such practices in constructing personal identity and social belonging.

The enduring human desire to express individuality and community affiliation through body adornments like piercings connects us with our Neolithic ancestors. As Dr. Baysal notes, wearing earrings is not just for the wearer’s benefit but serves as a means of projecting oneself to others—a sentiment that remains true across millennia.

This remarkable discovery sheds light on the rich tapestry of human culture and expression, revealing that, in many ways, the people of the past were not so different from us today.