Sunday, April 14, 2024

‘They’re just like us’: Researchers share a game-changing discovery about ancient piercings from the Stone Age and the people who used them

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Researchers in Turkey have found groundbreaking proof linking ancient facial piercings to the bodies of those who wore them.

Throughout southwest Asia, evidence of personal adornment, such as earring-like objects assumed to be piercings, has been found among Neolithic or late Stone Age communities dating back as far as 12,000 years. However, until now, objects interpreted as piercings had not been directly linked to the specific body parts they may have adorned.

A recent analysis of excavations at Boncuklu Tarla in southeastern Turkey revealed burials with adornments for piercings placed near the ears and mouths of grave occupants. Dental wear on the lower incisors of these remains, dating back around 11,000 years, resembled known wear patterns caused by a type of ornament called a labret, often worn below the lower lip.

This discovery, reported in the journal Antiquity, marks the first direct link between facial piercings in Neolithic people from southwestern Asia and the specific body parts they perforated. The findings confirm that the practice was common during the early Neolithic.

While people of all ages were buried at Boncuklu Tarla, the newly described ornaments were only found near the remains of adults. This suggests that such adornments were not worn by children, and the acquisition of these piercings may have marked coming-of-age rituals within social groups.

Boncuklu Tarla, occupied by hunter-gatherers from around 10,300 BC to 7100 BC, provided a wealth of ornamental objects from the Neolithic period. Approximately 100,000 decorative artifacts have been found to date, making it a site where people had a particular affinity for adornment, including beads, necklaces, bracelets, and various decorations.

Scientists identified 85 objects from Boncuklu Tarla burials as ornaments worn in piercings, made of materials such as flint, limestone, copper, and obsidian. These labrets were classified into seven types based on shape, with some specifically designed for ear wear and others for lip wear.

The absence of ear ornaments or labrets near the heads, necks, or chests of buried children indicates that facial piercings were reserved for adults, possibly associated with social status or a particular role in society.

For archaeologists, piercings and other forms of body decoration are crucial sources of information about how prehistoric peoples presented themselves to each other and to external groups. This form of personal expression may be rooted in the mythologies of traditional societies, emphasizing the fundamental importance of decorating the body for identity construction and protection. The motivation to express identity or community through piercings and personal ornamentation remains relatable even today, reflecting a shared aspect of human behavior throughout history.

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