Since ancient times, men and women have pierced their ears, noses and other body parts. Research suggests that these early dermal piercings were often done for cultural, as well as aesthetic reasons. Unfortunately, it can be hard for researchers to ascertain exactly how or why these early people chose to pierce themselves.
The Aztecs strung barbells and rings through the surface of their tongues, for instance, for religious reasons. The Egyptians often pierced their belly buttons and navels with elaborate studs and bits of jewelry. And many African tribespeople wore nose rings, lip rings, and labrets.
Even genital piercing has been popular in certain societies for centuries. Throughout most of history, men and women have been piercing their flesh with sterile needles and other sharp objects. They have also been tattooing their body parts for just as long.
It can sometimes be hard to tell why these early humans chose to put barbells and piercings through their body parts. Some scholars suggest that the pain of piercing ear cartilage or septum tissue or the skin above the eyebrow was meant to be symbolically significant. Other scholars suggest that early humans chose to tunnel through their flesh for more aesthetic reasons. After all, they say, a tragus, monroe, or helix piercing can certainly be aesthetically pleasing. Other scholars are of the opinion that certain groups of people chose to pierce themselves for cultural and religious reasons, while other groups of people chose to pierce themselves for artistic and expressive reasons. This last explanation is perhaps the most compelling.