I’m covered in scars and I have been a long time. Where as a teenager, I hid them, still lost in the chaos that caused me to create them, a longer time still I have embraced them - like battle wounds that brought me to the victory of today. Through out the last decade and several continents it’s been impossible not to note the outside worlds responses to them. Varied but typical, years passed that they were looked upon either with fear and dismay - glanced at furtively with train-wreck syndrome or bluntly questioned with outright - often outraged - curiosity.
Not until a stranger approached me - then fifteen - poolside, enamored and gushing over my heavily torn arms did I first hear the term ‘scarification.’
For a young Anthropology nut in the making this was a revelation; body modification as historic rite. I’d been unwittingly partaking in ancient Initiation and advancement rituals.
Body modification is one of the most ancient forms of Art. In the last fifty years it has become ever more common; dyed hair, tattoo’s, piercings, stretched lobes, gauged noses, plastic surgery - The modern age is obsessed with individuality and anything we can employ to assert our own.
Though like the Kayan Women of Myanmar and Thailand - often called Giraffe women for their necks bound in incremental brass coils from childhood - when asked why they do it; where the tradition comes from - they have no answer. What they can say is it continues today because it’s what their culture considers beautiful.
Few people today understand where their expressions of individuality trace back to and here I hope to provide some insight on that, specifically regarding gauged piercings.
The first needle discovered has been dated back 50,000 years to the mountain ranges between Mongolia and China. When you consider that our written history only goes back a little over 5,000 years, one has to dispel the idea that we know where tattoos and piercings originate but anthropologists, archaeologists and historians have been compiling clues for as long as curiosity has reigned.
The oldest cemetery in the world lies in a cave in Northern Oujda, Morocco. The first body adornment of any kind - small perforated shell beads - have been dated back to the bodies resting in it at a mind blowing 82,000 years ago.
It wasn’t until 35,000 years ago the first piece of art depicting a realistic human figure showed up - also an ancient piece of jewelry - a carved ivory amulet emulating Venus in all her glory (mostly breasts with very short legs) was located in Modern day Germany.
So when 5000 years later - still a whopping 30,000 years ago - rock art shows up in mass from India through out Australia and Africa depicting warriors and tribes people, heavily laden with jewelry - we begin to understand;
Humans enjoyed and utilized the art of our bodies, long before it occurred to us to create even on a rockface, let alone in frame or sculpture.
The oldest European human mummy on record was just your regular rebel of today. Discovered in the Ötztal alps between Austria and Italy in the early 90’s, the body was cheerfully nicknamed Ötzi and his remains are dated to about 5400 years ago, a hundred or so years before even writing had been invented.
Ötzi bares gauged earlobes that would fit a plug of about 11mm and his skin was marked with 61 mostly linear tattoos inked into his skin with neolithic soot.
Head East and forward in time about 2000 years to the Egyptian reign of the boy King Tutankhamen, his golden death mask shows he too had stretched lobes and his gauge jewelry - 10mm elaborate plugs with protruding bars - were discovered in his tomb with him in the 1920’s.
Buddhism originated about 2500 years ago. After the birth and later enlightenment of Siddhartha Guatam in Lubini, Nepal. He was born to a royal family and as was traditional he was fitted with expanders / plugs in early childhood.
He abandoned his plugs and tunnels when he became an ascetic but his elongated lobes were forever a sign of the lavish life he left behind. In most Asian cultures large ears were and are considered auspicious, looked on as a symbol of wisdom and compassion.
Empowering symbolism and love for lobes doesn’t stop there. The Mayan and Aztec tribes of Central America revered ears, believing them to be conduits of spiritual energy.
While stretching goes back as far as human remains do, the style of plugs and flesh tunnels as we know them today can be traced straight back to them.
Some simpler Mayan designs formed of Jadeite, shell, obsidian or ceramic greatly resemble the gauges of today.
Across the two cultures, style varies largely - Mayans favoring forms of Jade and other native stones while the Aztecs preferred them hammered from precious metals; gold, silver and copper -
One thing between the tribes is clear, their gauge jewelry was originally intended to resemble flowers - sporting a huge front flare unparalleled by any pieces of today, some of the oldest gauge jewelry of nobles discovered in these lands have their trumpet shaped inners clearly etched with petals.
It’s incredible to understand that what we adorn our gauged ears with today - a bright and bold symbol of our individuality is not only more ancient than the written word but has its roots in tribal peoples attracting spiritual energy to their stretched ears like bees to pollen.
The huge Maoi statues of Easter Island are yet another curious example of gauged piercings in more recent history. The infamous volcanic rock heads also sport stretched lobes and a little known legend says that the island was split by two castes - those with stretched ears ruling those without and enslaving them to a life of carving giant volcanic stone heads in the upper class’s image.
While there are still mixed responses to piercings and tattoos in the west, especially during job interviews, the taboo and separation slowly wanes. It is more and more accepted as a modern tribute to human history, art and consciousness.
So true enough, stretched ears are a visual marker setting you apart from the crowd, but let’s appreciate the idea that it too marks you as a part of a global, timeless tribe.
I'm the new resident writer at tribu, it's been a joy delving into the relevant topics. Drop me a comment below if you enjoyed the info and are hungry for more! and remember we ship all over Europe. Don't let distance delay you!