Scientists reveal finding on Stone Age piercings

Researchers Uncover Insights into Stone Age Body Piercing Practices

In Turkey, archaeologists have made a fascinating discovery that links prehistoric facial piercings directly to the individuals who adorned themselves with them. This groundbreaking find reveals that people from the Neolithic or late Stone Age, spread across southwest Asia, were already embracing personal adornment techniques like piercings over 12,000 years ago. However, until now, there hadn’t been concrete evidence to connect these adornments directly to the body parts they embellished.

The revelation came from the Boncuklu Tarla archaeological site in southeastern Turkey. Here, researchers found burial sites where jewelry intended for piercings was placed close to the deceased’s ears and mouths. Remarkably, the dental wear on some skeletons, dating back about 11,000 years, matched the abrasion patterns you’d expect from a labret—a type of ornament typically worn below the lower lip.

This discovery marks the first direct evidence of facial piercings among Neolithic people in southwestern Asia, shedding light on the prevalence of this practice in early Neolithic times. Interestingly, these ornaments were found exclusively near adult remains, suggesting that piercings might have signified a rite of passage or a marker of social status within these ancient communities.

Other signs of coming-of-age rituals have been noted in Neolithic burials, such as the strategic placement of bodies and artifacts. However, the direct association of piercings with adults provides a compelling example of such practices, as noted by anthropological archaeologist Dusan Boric, who, while not involved in the study, recognized the significance of this find.

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 since its first excavation in 2012. Dr. Emma L. Baysal, a key researcher, highlighted the site’s remarkable collection of around 100,000 decorative items, including beads, necklaces, bracelets, and animal-shaped pendants. This abundance of adornments underscores the community’s deep appreciation for personal decoration.

Among the artifacts, 85 were identified as piercing ornaments, crafted from materials like flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian. These items varied in shape and size, indicating their use as ear and lip piercings. Some labrets, dislodged possibly by rodents, were found near the head and neck areas of the remains, while others remained in place, offering a clear connection to their use in life.

The practice of using labrets, particularly for lip and ear piercings, has been long speculated by scientists. This discovery at Boncuklu Tarla provides solid evidence of their use and likely similar practices at contemporaneous sites.

While children were found buried with beads and pendants, the absence of piercings among their remains suggests that facial piercings were exclusive to adults, possibly denoting maturity or a specific societal role. This distinction offers valuable insights into how prehistoric peoples might have presented themselves and their social structures.

Beyond mere aesthetics, the tradition of body adornment may have played a significant role in personal and communal identity, as suggested by the mythologies of traditional societies. These practices of decorating the body could have been integral to constructing personal identity and social protection.

The enduring human desire to express oneself through body decoration, as seen in the Neolithic people of Boncuklu Tarla, resonates with us even today. The act of wearing piercings, largely unseen by the wearer but perceived by others, highlights a shared human motivation to project one’s identity and belonging, bridging thousands of years of human culture and expression.