Where Did Earrings Originate?
If you have ever been curious about where the practice of decorating our ears with jewelry originated, you’re in the right place!
Ear piercing is known to be one of the earliest forms of body modification, and earrings have been worn by people for centuries across the world. In many cases, ear piercing and earrings have had and continue to have a very specific cultural significance.
Earrings and Early History
The oldest mummy discovered in the Valley of the Alps, Otzi, had pierced and stretched earlobes alongside line and dot tattoos on his body.
Gold earrings were found in the Sumerian Royal Cemetery and in many ancient archaeological sites across India dating back to the Early Dynastic period, which began in 2900 BC. Interestingly, in India, ornate earrings and ornaments have been consistently popular and remain in fashion to this day. Earrings made from gold, silver and bronze were popular in the Minoan Civilization between 2000 BCE and 1600 BCE, and evidence of this can be seen on frescoes across Santorini in Greece. Earrings were also prevalent during the Mycenaean and Minoan periods in Greece, particularly hoop earrings that were adorned with conical-shaped pendants.
Evidence from ancient Persia and ancient Egypt illustrates that earrings were also popular among men throughout history. Some of the surviving structure of the palace in Persepolis was adorned with carved soldiers who were depicted wearing an earring. Additionally, when describing the tomb of Tutankhamun, Howard Carter wrote that Tutankhamun’s earlobes were perforated. The ears on his burial mask were also perforated. However, in place of earrings, the holes were concealed by gold discs, suggesting that only ancient Egyptian children wore earrings.
Earrings and Early Modern History
During the classical period and beyond, earrings were viewed as being an ornament for females only. For Ainu women and men, wearing earrings was a tradition until the 19th century, when the Meiji government prohibited Ainu men to wear them.
Earrings increased in popularity during the 1590s among English gentlemen and courtiers. Interestingly, if a sailor had an earlobe piercing, it signified that they had crossed the equator or sailed around the world. Additionally, if the sailor were to lose their life at sea, the precious metal content of their jewelry could pay for an appropriate funeral and burial.
In the period following the renaissance, boys with fathers who had been killed would often have pierced ears. Additionally, if a boy was the only one in his family, his right ear might have been pierced to signify this fact. If a man had earrings in both earlobes, this indicated that he was the last member of his family and should be excused from war to ensure his lineage wouldn’t come to an end.
Between the 18th and 19th century, clip-on earrings became much more popular than pierced earrings, which were viewed as being for those on the lower end of the social hierarchy.
Earrings and Contemporary History
During the late 1950s and early ‘60s, ear piercings once again rose in popularity. Physicians started to offer ear piercing services in the mid-1960s. Around the same time, jewelry stores in Manhattan were among the first commercial premises offering ear piercing.
Ear piercings were hugely popular among punk rock communities, with music performers and fans alike piercing their ears multiple times, sometimes using safety pins. By the time the 1980s rolled around, it was trendy for men to have pierced ears.
Today, earrings of varying styles and designs are a popular choice for both men and women. From statement styles such as these Gold Pearl Earrings that can help elongate the face to geometric designs like the Rainbow Dangling Cube Earrings that can sharpen facial features and minimal studs such as the Valentina Leaf Earrings that can add an additional layer of style to an ensemble, there are earrings to suit every occasion.
Asymmetric piercings have risen in popularity in recent decades, which has resulted in an increase in cartilage piercings, including the conch , daith , helix , rook  and tragus  piercings. Impressively, as almost every area of the ear can be pierced, it is possible to have more than 20 individual piercings in each ear.
Earrings are still worn as a form of self-expression and are made from a variety of different materials, including silver, gold and platinum. The earring styles worn today are myriad and include small plain studs, hoops with thin metal bars, and pieces adorned with jewels and crystals.