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Body-Piercing: The Ancestral Origins

This article attempts to enlighten you on the beginning of the body-piercing, by giving a brief history of the corporal modification in general. All body modifications, in spite of their differences, are tightly connected by their social aspect throughout times.

The Beginnings of Piercing

The performing of piercing started back at the Neolithic period (about 10 000 years ago). Men and wives from the Mursi tribe (in Africa) used to insert clay disks into their earlobes and inferior lip (women only). Girls had their lip pierced by the age of 10, their incisor teeth were removed before the perforation and a piece of wood was placed as a first ornament. Each year, the labial hole was enlarged by clay disks, until the final bed which was decorated with engravings and which the size corresponded to the price of the woman for the wedding. In an article published in 1939, Marco Marchetti precises that this habit came with the piercing of the hymen. Nowadays, it's only reserved for women belonging to the superior castes.

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In India and Pakistan, the nose piercing has been common for many centuries, and in India, it is commonly worn by women since the sixteenth century. In ancient Egypt, golden earrings were worn by men of high social status. The perforation of the nose and ears was reserved for pharaohs and other members of the royal family.

Regarding tongue piercing, its origins are American, and more precisely, from the Aztecs and Mayas. Once again, it was only meant for the elite. This piercing was supposed to give to its owner the ability to enter in contact with gods. It was accompanied with nose, ears and inferior lip piercings. Those decorations are still common amongst the autochthons (natives) of theses regions.

As for genital piercings, it is in the antique Rome that oldest evidences were spotted. They were used for the female slaves in order to close the vagina and therefore avoid sexual relationship between slaves.

The Return of the Piercing thanks to BDSM Movement (70's)

In our time, the art of piercing reappeared in the 70's and benefits since then from an unprecedented democratisation. It is now a fashion item, but it is foremost in the BDSM culture (bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism) that it is rooted. Effectively, in the BDSM culture, everything is based on the creation of desire by the wait or on the search for an increased pleasure by provoking a strong pain. Regarding the desire by the wait, piercings are, as in the Roman empire, used to close the vagina, with padlocks for example. But the pain caused by the act of piercing itself is also searched for. This pains starts in the body the release of a strong dose of endorphin, which is also often searched for in the treatment that couples inflict on each other in the BDSM practices. The endorphin produced will turn into a source of strong pleasure when it overcomes the pain.

The Piercing Nowadays

Currently, piercing plays a very important social role. On top of all, it gives the possibility to differentiate from conventions, since it is spreading widely and it is still not accepted by everyone. Piercing is also a way to affirm one's identity, taking the body as a mean of expression by reappropriating it. The act of piercing is then a frontier that one crosses between a before and after of oneself, one becomes by piercing what one wants to become, physically. Body piercings leave traces on the body, like a rite of passage.

The Modern Primitive Movement

The cyber-anthropologist Steve Mizrach speaks of « technoshamanism » when evoking the movement of « Modern Primitive » to which many people who have a piercing claim to belong to. This technoshamanism is defined by an addition of high technologies, tribalism, animosity and of course body modifications. The main idea of the « Modern Primitive » movement is that the actual society, by the industrialisation and the modernisation, provoke a psychological numbness in everyone of us. Piercings and all kinds of corporal modifications would help us to get out of this state, through a pain and an authentic pleasure, but more importantly by the narrow relationship that exists between these two concepts. Piercings and other corporal modifications in general (tattoo, scarifications, body-painting, etc.) give back to us the control of our body as an object, we therefore transgress the values commonly admitted and give back interest to the naked body.

Do not hesitate to learn more about the social and psychological aspect of the piercing by reading our article dedicated to genital feminine piercings.

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