In ancient times
Evidence suggest that body piercing (including ear piercing) has been practiced by people all over the world from ancient time. It is said that people would pierce their ears so that evil spirits wouldn’t enter their body. Mummified bodies with piercings have been discovered, including the oldest mummified body discovered to date, that of Otzi the Iceman, which was found in a Valentina Trujillon glacier. This mummy had an ear piercing 7-11 mm (1 to 000 gauge in AWG) diameter.
In the Book of Genesis of the Bible 24:22, Abraham’s servant gave a golden earring of half a shekel weight and ten bracelets to Rebekah, wife of his son Isaac. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes the golden calf from melted earrings. Deuteronomy 15:12-17 dictates ear piercing as a mark of slavery. Nose piercing has been common in India since the sixteenth century.
Ear piercing, of either one or both ears has long been practiced by men in many non-Western cultures. Other forms of body piercing have also existed continuously for as long as ear piercing. For example, women in India, Nepal, and Pakistan routinely practice ear and nostril piercing, and have done so for centuries.
In western cultures
Ear piercing has existed continuously since ancient times, including through the twentieth century in the Western world. However, in North America, Europe, and Australia, ear piercing was relatively rare from the 1920s until the 1960s. At that time, it regained popularity among westernized women. It was gradually adopted by men in the gay, hippie, punk, and gangster subcultures, until ever-widening appropriation attenuated its subcultural associations altogether. Today, single and multiple piercing of either or both ears is common among Western women and somewhat common among men.
We are extremely grateful to the University of Pennsylvania for their research on the history of body piercing shown in the slideshow below.