Surprising Body Piercing History!

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

If you've been blessed with children, the chances are they now have something other than their ears pierced!  Belly rings are most the most common form of fashionable body piercing, even Zara Phillips, Princess Anne's daughter has one of these.

Body piercing has been practiced for as long as five thousand years. It has, in the beginning, as it is now, been used as a personal expression, a religious ritual, an official or royal distinction, and more often recently as a trend in fashion.  It began with the first tribes and clans of the oldest human races; the jungle tribes in South America, Africa and Indonesia, and  the religious castes of India.  Piercing was also used by the Egyptian Pharaohs, the philosophers of Greece and the soldiers of Rome, and then all the way up to the middle classes, and the aristocracy of the 18th and 19th century. It was all but forgotten in Europe during the beginning of the twentieth century, what with two world wars, and the concerns of a growing world, until the 1970’s where it found itself being nurtured by London’s pioneering fashion gurus and artists of the underground culture. 

By the 1990’s, piercing had finally reached the attention of the entire globe closing the link from the ancients, to the modern.

Ear Lobe:

The ear lobe is by far, the most common place in history and now, to find a piercing.  An ear lobe piercing could have once distinguished a wealthy person from a poor one. Now it is simply the most popular way to display piercing jewellery.

Sailors once pierced their ears believing it gave them better eyesight, while Romans associated ear piercing with wealth and luxury. South American and African tribes pierced ears and stretched the hole, similar to the flesh tunnels you see now. The bigger the hole, the higher your social standing.


Nostril piercing was first thought to originate in the Middle-East almost 4000 years ago. From there it spread into India in the 16th century, where it was quickly adopted into the noble castes.

The kind of jewellery worn could distinguish the wearer by caste and social standing, much like a title, or even an identity card!  The piercing was introduced into the west by the ‘Hippy’ culture, that travelled to India in the 60’s and 70’s. It was shortly adopted by the ‘Punks’ and other youth culture of the 80’s and 90’s, until it’s popular use in the new millennium.


In the ancient temples of the Aztecs and Mayans, Shamens and High Priests pierced their tongues as part of a ritual to communicate with their gods. Thousands of years later, and it is still a popular piercing, although for different reasons.
Both men and women can find it sexually arousing, as well as empowering.

Lip and Labret

The mouth and lips are a sensuous part of the body and power is an aphrodisiac, so it is only natural that only the higher castes of Aztecs and Mayans should adorn their lips with labrets of pure gold. In Africa, the women of the Makololo tribe of Malawi wear plates called ‘Pelele’ in their upper lip, to arouse the men in their tribes.

Tribes in central and South America pierced their lower lips and stretched the hole to fit in wooden plates.
Now, lip piercing is more common among the general populace, more often on the lower lip, however recently upper lip piercing has become popular, like the famous ‘Madonna’ or ‘Cindy Crawford’ beauty mark. 


Nipple piercings were once considered a sign of strength, virility and endurance. The natives of central America once pierced their nipples as a mark of the transition to manhood. The honour guard of the Roman Ceasars would also pierce their nipples to show their strength and duty to protect their emperor. It was said that it was their nipple jewellery that held their cloaks in place!

In the 1890’s it was all the rage for Victorian women to pierce their nipple with jewellery sold by the famous jewellers of Paris. Some even had both nipples pierced and hung silver chains from one to the other.

Navel Piercing:

The first records of navel piercing stretch as far back as the ancient civilisations of Egypt. Then it was only the Pharaohs and their Royal families who were permitted to pierce their navels. Peasants who broke this rule were executed! However, if a peasant girl was born with ‘The perfect belly button’ she was sometimes permitted to have it pierced, and therefore to elevate her social standing.  The navel is now one of the most popular piercings.

Prince Albert:

Named after Queen Victoria’s husband and consort, Prince Albert was reported to have his genitals pierced in the late 1820’s as part of a craze among men, who wore lightweight trousers. With a genital piercing, a gentleman could hook his penis to either side, so as not to create an unsightly bulge!


Body piercing facts reproduced courtesy of Body Jewellery Shop.

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