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. They found that people from the Neolithic or late Stone Age, spread across southwest Asia, adorned themselves with earring-like objects as piercings as far back as 12,000 years ago. However, until now, there was no direct evidence of these objects being worn on the body.

The breakthrough came from the Boncuklu Tarla archaeological site in southeastern Turkey. Here, researchers found burial sites with piercing ornaments placed near the deceased’s ears and mouths. They noticed dental wear on the lower incisors of these skeletons, dating back to around 11,000 years ago, which matched the abrasion patterns seen from wearing a labret, a type of ornament typically worn below the lower lip.

This discovery marks the first time that facial piercings have been directly connected to the body parts they adorned in Neolithic people from southwestern Asia. It confirms that the practice of facial piercing was already widespread in the early Neolithic period. Interestingly, these ornaments were found only with adult remains, suggesting that piercings might have been part of coming-of-age rituals within these ancient communities.

Other evidence of such rituals exists, but this finding is particularly compelling. Anthropological archaeologist Dusan Boric, not involved in the study, highlighted the significance of this discovery in understanding Neolithic coming-of-age practices.

The Boncuklu Tarla site, occupied by hunter-gatherers from around 10,300 BC to 7100 BC, has yielded an astonishing number of decorative artifacts since its first excavation in 2012. Dr. Emma L. Baysal, a coauthor of the study, expressed amazement at the sheer volume of adornments found, emphasizing the community’s love for decoration. Among these were various forms of labrets and ornaments for ear and lip piercings, crafted from materials like flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian.

The researchers identified 85 objects as piercing ornaments and categorized labrets into seven types based on their shape. Some ornaments had shifted from their original positions, likely due to rodent activity, but others were found still in place on the skull, providing clear evidence of their use as piercings during life.

The study suggests that facial piercings were reserved for adults, possibly signifying maturity, social status, or a specific role within society. This practice of body adornment offers valuable insights into how prehistoric people presented themselves and their identity.

Beyond mere decoration, these adornments might have played a role in personhood construction and protection, rooted in the mythologies of traditional societies. This connection between past and present shows that the desire to express identity through body ornamentation is a deeply human trait that spans thousands of years.

The discovery at Boncuklu Tarla not only sheds light on Neolithic life but also helps us see the similarities between ancient peoples and ourselves today. It reminds us that, despite the passage of time, the human inclination to express ourselves through personal adornment remains unchanged.