The New Kingdom.
In the earliest civilizations, we know that there was body piercing because it’s mentioned in texts, shown in some remains, and it’s represented in statues. But for stretching specifically, we’re looking at Egypt, where there was a thriving tradition of ear stretching that spanned a millennium.
Take a look at these busts, of Tutankhamen (“King Tut”) and Horemheb, both of which show them with large stretched lobes. You can page through pharaoh after pharaoh and find images like these. It does make some people wonder: why no plugs?
It’s not because they didn’t have them. During this period of ancient Egypt, which spanned from about 2000BCE-1000BCE(That’s going by the jewelry, not the dynasties), there were massive quantities of large plugs produced from a material called faience. By large I’m talking 6 centimeters in diameter, a pretty serious stretch by today’s standards. It’s common to see statues of women wearing them, and they’re found in many women’s tombs (whose mummies also often preserved their stretched lobes). Plugs were also made of stone, bone, gold and electrum, depending on how fancy the person wearing them was.
It’s thought that the practice of wearing plugs in the ears and earrings came to Egypt from either the Nubians – some of whom served as mercenaries in Egypt during this time – or from the Hyksos in Asia. It spread
from Egypt through the Middle East, to civilizations like the Philistines, of Biblical fame.
And because I know you’re heard of bone, stone, and gold but might not have heard of faience, I’m going to tell you a little bit about that material which was all the rage in the 2
nd millennium BCE.
Faience, in modern terms, is glazed pottery. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, but it’s the culmination of thousands of years of pottery technology. It requires not only a glaze that will harden almost to a stone-like consistency, but a powerful kiln.
In the ancient world, faience was made using a “frit” a kind of powdered pottery mix of quartz, copper, lime and flux. Heated up to a thousand degrees, this material produced a kind of glass-ish, pottery-ish finish. Depending on the ratio, you could get something sort of clear, or something opaque. It was so widely used because you could cast it or shape it however you wanted, and once fused it became a solid piece that was very durable (Some ancient faience has lasted until today, so you could say it’s durable).
Faience was in use from the 4000s BCE, but until the 18
th dynasty the Egyptians weren’t using it for ear stuff, because they had just started wearing earrings and plugs.
Next week we’re going to hop to another civilization that was stretching around this period in Cyprus. Today, not many people know Cyprus, but in the ancient world, Cyprus was a major power, and their wealth, as demonstrated by some of their incredible gold jewelry, made them both famous, and a target for conquering.
This section of the
History of Stretching is mind blowing for a lot of people, because we’ve been taught in the western world, particularly in modern times, that stretching is a “primitive” habit. It’s often associated unfavorably with cultures that were viewed as backwards and heathen, and used as an excuse for persecution.
What you’ll learn below, however, is that ear stretching was at the core of the ancient western nations that are now considered the height of “civilized”. The places that gave birth to architecture, philosophy, history, mathematics and democracy were also home to a lot of ear stretching.
For both men and women.
New Kingdom calcite spiral 1500-1000BCE (Photo credit LACMA.org)
Horemheb and his glorious lobes. (Photo credit Captmodo, Wikimedia Commons)
Faience mold for making decorative seals (Photo credit LACMA.org)
Faience plug 1300 BCE (Photo credit MetMuseum.org)
Nubian carving with stretched spiral earring 1353 BCE (Photo credit MetMuseum.org)
New Kingdom Spirals 1600 BCE (Photo credit MetMuseum.org)