Neolithic Piercings

Digs & Discoveries July/August 2024

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At Boncuklu Tarla, or Beaded Field, a Neolithic site in southeast Turkey, an astounding 100,000 personal ornaments made of stone and shell have been unearthed since 2012. These include necklaces, pendants, and bracelets, as well as a range of small items that look like they could have been used as piercings—though until recently this was a matter of speculation.

Now, archaeologists studying burials at the site dating to as long as 11,000 years ago have excavated around 100 of the ornaments near people’s ears or mouths, indicating that they were indeed used to pierce flesh. In at least one case, a stone ornament was found near the mouth of an individual whose tooth enamel was abraded in a fashion suggesting it was scratched by the ornament. “The degree of surface erosion of the teeth is pretty good evidence that these ornaments were worn for a long time,” says archaeologist Emma Baysal of Ankara University. “This was not just a temporary thing or a part of burial.” She notes that the artifacts were only found with adult burials, suggesting they may have been associated with a rite of passage.

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