Scientists reveal finding on Stone Age piercings

Researchers Uncover Insights into Stone Age Body Piercing Practices

In Turkey, archaeologists have made a significant discovery that links ancient facial piercings directly to the individuals who adorned them. These findings shed light on personal decorations, such as objects resembling earrings, which were prevalent among Neolithic or Late Stone Age communities throughout southwest Asia, dating back as far as 12,000 years. Until now, these presumed piercings had not been physically connected to the specific body parts they might have adorned.

Recent analyses at Boncuklu Tarla, an archaeological site in southeastern Turkey, have unveiled burial sites where jewelry intended for piercings was positioned close to the deceased’s ears and mouths. The wear patterns on the lower incisors of these skeletons, which are about 11,000 years old, match those typically caused by labrets—ornaments worn below the lower lip. This marks the first instance of Neolithic facial piercings in southwestern Asia being directly linked to the body parts they decorated, as reported in the journal Antiquity. These findings also support the idea that piercing was a widespread practice in the early Neolithic era.

Interestingly, these ornaments were discovered solely near adult remains, suggesting that such decorations were exclusive to adults. This could indicate that receiving piercings was a rite of passage into adulthood within these communities.

Other forms of evidence point to Neolithic coming-of-age rituals, such as specific burial arrangements. However, according to Dusan Boric, an anthropological archaeologist not involved in the study, this discovery stands out as particularly compelling evidence of such practices.

The site of Boncuklu Tarla, which was home to hunter-gatherers from around 10,300 BC to 7100 BC, has produced an astonishing number of decorative items from the Neolithic period—around 100,000 artifacts to date. “The sheer quantity is unbelievable,” said Dr. Emma L. Baysal, a coauthor of the study. The site’s inhabitants had a profound appreciation for adornment, crafting intricate beadwork for necklaces, bracelets, and clothing decorations, as well as ornaments for ear and lip piercings.

Labrets, still worn in some cultures today, were crafted in various shapes and sizes from materials like flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian. The researchers identified 85 objects as piercing ornaments and categorized labrets into seven distinct types based on their shapes.

While some labrets had moved from their original positions, likely due to rodent activity, others were found still in place on or under the skull, indicating their use as body piercings during life.

The absence of ear ornaments and labrets near children’s remains suggests that facial piercings were a privilege reserved for adults, possibly signifying maturity, social status, or a specific societal role.

Piercings and other body decorations offer invaluable insights into how prehistoric people presented themselves within their communities and to outsiders. According to Baysal, these forms of personal expression, deeply rooted in the mythologies of traditional societies, might have played a crucial role in constructing personal identity and offering protection.

These ancient adornments provide a tangible connection to Neolithic people, highlighting the enduring human desire to express individuality and belonging through personal ornamentation. “You’re doing it for how you project yourself to other people,” Baysal explained, emphasizing the timeless nature of this practice.

This discovery not only enriches our understanding of Neolithic societies but also reminds us of the shared human experience that spans thousands of years, connecting us with our ancient ancestors through the universal language of personal adornment.