Scientists reveal finding on Stone Age piercings

Researchers Uncover Insights into Stone Age Body Piercing Practices

In Turkey, archaeologists have made an exciting discovery that links ancient facial piercings directly to the individuals who once adorned them. This finding sheds light on personal decoration practices, including the use of objects similar to earrings, among Neolithic or late Stone Age communities throughout southwest Asia, dating back as much as 12,000 years. However, until now, these presumed piercings had not been directly connected to specific body parts.

Recent analysis at the Boncuklu Tarla archaeological site in southeastern Turkey has uncovered burials where piercing adornments were positioned close to the deceased’s ears and mouths. Notably, the lower incisors of these remains, which are approximately 11,000 years old, show wear patterns consistent with abrasion from labrets, a type of ornament typically worn below the lower lip. This marks the first instance of Neolithic facial piercings in southwestern Asia being directly associated with the body parts they adorned, as reported in the journal Antiquity. The findings underscore the prevalence of this practice in the early Neolithic period.

Interestingly, these ornaments were exclusively found near adult remains, suggesting that piercings were adult-only adornments, possibly signifying rites of passage or social status within their communities. Other evidence of Neolithic coming-of-age rituals includes specific burial arrangements and artifact placements, highlighting the significance of this discovery.

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, totaling around 100,000 decorative artifacts. This abundance of adornments indicates a strong cultural emphasis on personal decoration, with intricate beadwork for necklaces, bracelets, and clothing, as well as crafted ornaments for ear and lip piercings. Labrets, still worn in some cultures today, were identified in various shapes and sizes among the burial finds.

The researchers identified 85 objects as piercing ornaments, made from materials like flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian, and categorized them into seven distinct types based on their shape. The study provides detailed descriptions of these ornaments, including their probable placement on the body, enhancing our understanding of Neolithic personal adornment practices.

While some labrets were displaced, likely by rodents, others remained positioned near or on the skulls, offering concrete evidence of their use as piercings during life. This discovery not only confirms the use of labrets as piercings but also suggests a broader practice across contemporaneous sites.

Facial piercings appear to have been reserved for adults, potentially reflecting social status, age-related roles, or personal identity within society. These findings offer invaluable insights into how prehistoric peoples presented themselves and their social structures, filling a gap in our understanding until the advent of written expression.

The tradition of body decoration, deeply rooted in the mythologies of traditional societies, emphasizes the importance of adorning the body beyond mere aesthetics. It suggests a complex interplay of identity construction and protection, providing a window into the social and cultural dynamics of Neolithic communities.

The enduring human desire to express identity and community through personal ornamentation, such as piercings, connects us with our Neolithic ancestors. This shared practice highlights a fundamental aspect of human nature that transcends time, offering a glimpse into the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago.