August 08, 2023 22 min read
Ear lobe stretching history (Ear Stretching History) involves the change over time of stretching ears as the practice has evolved. Rich with stories and expansive with discoveries of stretched ears found on nearly every continent on the globe, the history of stretching ears is full of interesting ways to stretch for wearing unique body jewelry.
History of ear stretching provide accounts for how people in various cultures of the past viewed stretching lobes. Stretching ear piercings have been used to express self-concepts and affiliations with groups throughout history according to researchers at Temple University (2009), with it helping to bring a closer connection among members of the community.
For example, symbolizing the importance of active listening and understanding from a gender standpoint, “Both men and women should añi-mbai bechi, ‘hear-understand-know well’, so they both traditionally pierced and stretched their earlobes to accommodate a plug," according to Jenny Reddish's research on the Suya community of South America at the University of East Anglia.
Other tribes of the past used ear stretching jewelry for communicating social status or their professions. While other notable figures of past and present simply wear stretched ear jewelry because they liked the look.
As a result, questions arise regarding tribal ear plugs, questioning why do people stretch their ears and how has this practice evolved throughout time. These answers along with the history behind ear stretching, traditional methods using earspools, evolving use of stretching materials over the ages, locally sourcing lubricants to stretch around the world throughout time, improved safety standards for stretching evolving over time, adventures of overcoming risks with stretching, how it affects culture, and how its changed over time in this article.
Back in 2006 when Plug Your Holes started selling body jewelry, we knew of the rich tradition of ear stretching and throughout the years, we've gathered more details to fill those gaps in this guide. When you become more accustomed to the world of ear stretching and understand the background for why certain things came to be, then you become a better educated consumer, and besides the great stretching jewelry Plug Your Holes sells online, you'll know why it's better in certain ways besides just knowing that it is gorgeous-looking jewelry.
The ear stretching practice has its roots deep in human history and spans across numerous cultures worldwide. A rich tapestry woven with tradition, symbolism, and personal expression, from ancient tribes to notable historical figures known for their stretched lobes, this body art form carries a unique significance.
Archaeologists believe the first record discovered of stretched earlobes dates back to 3300 BCE which were from ÖTZI -- the mummy known with the 00g stretched ears.
First discovered in 1991, the ancient mummy was found just 100 meters away from the Austrian Border in Italy, frozen under sheets of ice. The mummy was well-preserved which helped archaeologists understand The Copper Age from the findings, though tourists actually found the mummified body originally while hiking the Alps.
When the tourists called the cops reporting a dead body found deep in the icy hole, law enforcement spent three days chipping away at the ice in order to reach the victim only to find out it was 3300 years old ÖTZI there with his tools and every day items (e.g. arrows, knife, ax and grass clothing), all well-preserved.
Get an overview on where ear stretching has gone since then by checking out the video with Founder of Plug Your Holes, Sam Dean:
Stretching lobes has historically existed on 6 of 7 continents, and stretching the ears represented good luck and wisdom in Buddhists cultures. The discovery of the ancient mummy helped experts point how far back we can trace the practice of stretching ears, but it doesn't verify how prevalent it was as an originating point for cultural influence. To that end, we fast-forward 2000 more years from the time of the ÖTZI the mummy and visit ancient Egypt-- in case you are wondering, "Where did ear stretching originate?"
The cultural tradition of ear stretching originates in ancient Egypt. Nearly 2000 years after ÖTZI's life, expert archaeologists acknowledge that Egypt is the cultural point of origin for stretching -- though, it has since trended in many cultures, spanning most continents for thousands of years since King Tut strut stretched ear jewelry back in 1332 to 1323 B.C.
Civilizations for ages had their own way to stretch ears and wear jewelry, however, it wasn't until 1857 which is when a standard form of measurement was introduced to become a standard in body jewelry, opening international commerce and more opportunities for new jewelry.
Interestingly, the concept of "gauges" originated in the British iron wire industry at a time when there was no universal unit of thickness of jewelry. The term "gauge" refers to the measuring system used to measure the thickness of jewelry which corresponds to the diameter of the stretched earlobes to fit the jewelry.
The term "gauge" comes from the wiring industry. The American Wire Gauge (AWG), also known as the Brown & Sharpe wire gauge, is a logarithmic stepped standardized wire gauge system used since 1857, for the diameters of round, solid, nonferrous, electrically conducting wire. The AWG system replaced the various measurements previously used differently by jewelry manufacturers.
Today, while much of the world relies on a metric-based system, most of the AWG system helped to standardize thickness of materials used for measuring ear stretching size for body jewelry. The AWG system has widely been adopted by the modern body jewelry industry for gauging jewelry size.
From ancient times to modern-day, the practice ear stretching approach has been a popular form of body modification. Let's take a look at some famous figures who were known for their stretched ears.
Notable historical figures of the past had stretched ears. You might've wondered, "Why does buddha have big ears?" Him among other legends chose to stretch and here are some of the notable figures in history with stretched ears:
Learning about these historical figures not only provides us with valuable insights about societal norms but also helps us appreciate how individual expression has evolved over centuries. Stretching is still popular today with many notable figures of modern times choosing to wear stretching ear jewelry, too.
You can find Scarlett Johansson stretched ears, Kehlani stretched ears, and many more examples that stand-out in the tabloids, though, the most famous people known to wear plugs for stretched ears in modern times, include: T-Pain, Melanie Martinez, Josh Dun, Jackson Galaxy, Travie McCoy and many more.
Today, people stretch their ears for various reasons, including aesthetics, spirituality, and individuality.
First, in 3300 BCE with the frozen mummy known as Ötzi having stretched ears -- it was the first sign, and then the culture of stretching the ear lobes points to Egypt as being a location where ear stretching became a practiced routine among other people, which has since expanded globally, with each region having their own cultural significance to ear stretching.
It's not a new piercing trend as the practice has been around for thousands of years. Whether for cultural significance or personal expression, it remains a popular trend today.
People stretch their ears because they like the way they look. Sometimes people have more reasons for why they stretched their ears, including, adopting the current style trend, cultural adherence, personal style, or spiritual symbolism.
Stretching Jewelry became popular again in the '90s as a symbol of rebellion among the counterculture movement from what had been originally been judged as an offspring from an anti-social activity of stretching ears and other piercings in the '60s. Before that, the practice of stretching earlobes dating back to ancient civilizations has been observed in various cultures across different centuries.
Whether it's the symbolism of stretching ears that intrigues you, personal style is the driver or you just like the look, this form of stretching remains a significant part of body modification culture across various societies.
NOTE: From Taboo to Trendy: Stretching used to be viewed negatively in the early 20th century due to its association with tribalism or paganism. But now, it's widely accepted and even celebrated among certain subcultures. Wearing unique plugs can be seen as not just a fashion statement, but part of one's identity.
What is Mayan ear stretching?
For The Mayans (250 CE until about 900), the ears were the portal to the soul and invited spirits into the body. Ear Flares and Ear Spools were the desired jewelry for The Mayans. Ear spools are depicted on Mayan statues. Ear Flares were made of jade and signified power and wealth to the Mayans.
Stretched ears in children were seen as a sign of patience for the Mayans. So much so that piercing the youth with ear piercings between the ages of 4 to 7 years old, the gauge size of the ear flares for young Mayan children gradually increased over time. The Mayan Calendar must've been used similarly to how we view the ear stretching timeline, mapping certain timeframes for when to stretch, when to rest and proper timeframes depicted in calendar-form in order to stretch effectively.
What is Aztec ear stretching?
The Aztecs (1300 to 1521) civilization wore stretching ear jewelry. Aztec men and women wore ear plugs which signaled social distinctions; teachers wore different plugs from priests who wore different plugs from Kings, and more. The stretching of earlobe skin was a skill taught to the young at an early age. Plugs were made of gold, wood, bone, jade or leather.
Aztec men wore jewelry in their ears, noses and lips as body jewelry served as a way to communicate military rank or social status among the Aztecs with larger ear holes signified social status and wealth.
The Olmec were the first civilization in Mesoamerica and are credited as source of handing down the stretching tradition to The Aztecs.
What is African ear stretching?
In Africa, elongated earlobes were seen as a sign of wisdom and maturity. African ear stretching is a traditional practice that has been part of the continent's cultural fabric for centuries. This body modification, also known as African gauges, involves the gradual stretching of the earlobe using various methods and materials.
In some African cultures, women stretch not only their ears but also their lower lips, accommodating lip plates as a sign of beauty and social status. Like stretching ears, this practice usually begins during adolescence.
The meaning behind African ear stretching varies across different tribes and communities. For some, it symbolizes rites of passage, status, or beauty. For others, it serves as a form of self-expression or spiritual symbolism.
For example, women wear ear spools made of gold or polished wood off the coast of Kenya Swahili. Polished wood are used as tools to stretch, while the golden ear spools are reserved for special occasions. Other parts of Africa have different approaches to stretching.
It's important to note that African cultural piercings, including ear stretching, are deeply rooted in the customs and traditions of the people. They reflect a rich history and a profound respect for cultural identity. As such, anyone seeking to adopt these practices do so with a deep understanding and respect for their cultural significance.
What is Maasai ear stretching?
The Maasai tribe of Africa elongated their earlobes as a symbol of age and wisdom according to Elsevier Health Sciences (2020). Members of the Maasai tribe in Kenya are well-known for their traditional beadwork earrings worn through significantly enlarged piercings. Maasai ears commonly don Ear flaps (instead of spools/plugs) made of beaded leather which are worn by married Masai women in Kenya and Tanzania, which are designed to hang to rest on the shoulders. Many indigenous tribes across Africa have incorporated stretched piercings into their cultural practices.
What is Celtic ear stretching?
Little was known about their actual methods that celts used to stretch, though, we know the gold discs from ancient ear spools that they used for jewelry exist today. So you might be wondering, "Did celts stretch their ears?"
Of the artifacts discovered from an expedition, celtic stretching jewelry found in Ireland resulted in one side of the ear spool which now lives in The Met in New York and the other side of the spool lives in the National Museum of Ireland, according to a source with expertise on Irish Antique Jewelry. If they put the two sides together, they'd have a complete plug to wear, old school Irish style.
Thanks to a 2011 article titled "Unspooling the Mystery" published in Archaeology Ireland, researcher Mary Cahill found from remains in Ireland, that three types of ear spools existed, including:
So even back then, customers had choices for big stretched ears jewelry!
Did vikings stretch their ears?
Vikings are not known to have stretched ears, nor ear piercings, at all. Despite pop culture pushing tie-ins with stretched lobes and vikings, piercing ears was seen as either risky on the battlefield or dangerous for aftercare being exposed in the frigid cold temperatures in the Nordic, Scandinavian and Baltic regions.
Did pirates stretch their ears?
Inspired by viking culture, pirates are known for piercing ears, which takes the seafaring lifestyle of the vikings, though the traditional look from the celts, to the next level.
How did other tribes approach ear stretching?
Tribes throughout history approached stretching earlobes in different ways. Below details some of the variety unique to each tribe.
In Ancient Greece, gold ear-reels (measuring about 20mm (.78") to 25mm (1") and 10mm (.36") thick), were worn in the ears according to terracotta figurines of that time. X-rays show they contained golden pellets which would've jangled with head movement showing that dangles were popular, too, in that time.
Stretching ears has evolved over time, from a cultural practice to a form of personal expression.
The practice of stretching an ear piercing has been a part of human culture for ages. Nowadays, modern techniques have evolved significantly from these traditional methods due to advancements in technology and increased understanding about health risks associated with body modifications. Stretching the ear piercing is a tradition with deep roots in many cultures across the globe, with methods ranging from traditional practices to modern techniques.
The Egyptians were thought to have developed an unknown ancient method to standardize the technique of stretching ears. The process of stretching in ancient times likely involved the use dead stretching or weights or both.
Table of Tribal Methods vs Modern Techniques to Stretch
|Ancient Stretching Methods||Modern Stretching Methods|
Modern ear stretching techniques, on the other hand, have evolved to incorporate a variety of methods and tools. These include tapers, tunnel plugs, taping and more which allow for more control over the stretching process and offer a wider range of aesthetic choices.
Regardless of the method used, it's important to begin stretching slowly. Whether you're following a traditional practice or opting for a modern approach, patience and care are key to achieving healthy, beautifully stretched ears.
NOTE: Stretching: ancient tradition or modern fashion statement? Both, actually. This practice dates back to ancient civilizations where stretched earlobes were a symbol of status and wealth. Today, it's more about expressing individuality and personal style.
From thorns to plugs, explore how different cultures have used various materials to stretch their earlobes.
Ancient Egyptians and Mayans were among the first to adopt this for of body art, using materials like gold, jade, and alabaster for their plugs. In ancient times, materials like stone, bone, and wood were commonly used. The Mayans, for instance, crafted beautiful ear flares from jade. In Ancient Egypt, giant plugs were used in stretching the earlobe, as evident from the discovery of King Tutankhamen's burial site.
Before plugs and tunnels, it was all about Ear Spools and Ear Flares:
Ear spools are found made of variety of materials, including, glass and gold. Though The Mayans are famous for Ear Spools, spools were used in many ancient cultures.
The Mayans were known to stretch their ears by inserting Ear Flares or discs, too. In Mayan times, Ear Flares were made of bird bone which were hollowed out. Wider flares were presented to the youth as they progressed through their milestones in life and graduated to larger gauge sizes.
The Etruscans wore large gold discs varying in sizes from 30m (1.2") to 70mm (2.8") in diameter. The Etruscans are known for their intricate regular golden earrings and heavy gold earrings which have been a staple in Indian and African cultures, too.
With individuals using materials ranging from bone awls to copper (reflecting the Bronze Age influence), below are the Type of Jewelry Material used old vs new.
Table of Materials to Make Stretching Jewelry: Old vs New:
|Ancient Stretching Materials||Modern Stretching Materials|
In more recent times, modern materials like silicone and acrylic have been introduced, leading to a variety of ear plugs, flesh plugs, and ear flares available in a variety of styles and colors.
The materials used for stretching have evolved significantly over time, reflecting the resources and aesthetic preferences of different cultures. From natural substances to modern procurement, the materials used for ear stretching have come a long way. As societies advanced, so did the approach to piercing stretching.
Despite modern advancements, many people still appreciate traditional materials for their timeless appeal. Whether it's a person wearing gold jewelry, chunky gold earrings, or elaborate jewelry with larger pieces, the allure of precious metals and stones remains strong. The key is to choose materials that are safe, comfortable, and reflect your personal style.
In addition to metal, colorful beads, strings, and precious stones were incorporated into stretching jewelry. Some communities even used ear weights made from brass or other heavy materials for larger stretches.
Back in the day, people used organic materials like wood or bone to stretch their ears gradually. Now, we have safer procedures using materials like glass. Making it simpler and less hazardous is the goal.
Research performed by expert Mary Cahill who was the Former Keeper of Irish Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland said:
There is no extreme, including extremes in pain, expense and distance, to which the human person will not go to procure the most appropriate or acceptable materials in order to achieve the desired effect, whether for reasons of vanity, social acceptance, ritual or cultural demand.
NOTE: Ancient Egyptians and Mayans were pioneers of stretching ears pierced, using various materials for their plugs.
How far would you go for your desired look? Stretching pursuits span continent-to-continent influencing culture to give their own spin to the timeless tradition of stretching ears.
Stretching worldwide, ear stretching has a long history spanning multiple cultures and regions across the world making it truly an interesting journey through the past!
Table of Regional Influence to Stretching
|Region||Stretched Ear Influence|
|Africa||In Africa, tribes like the Maasai in Kenya and Tanzania view stretched ears as symbols of wisdom and maturity. Similarly, in Ethiopia's Mursi tribe, women wear large clay plates in their lower lips and ears - a signifier of social status.|
|Asia||Buddha statues found throughout Southeast Asia depict him with long-stretched lobes symbolizing enlightenment.|
|Americas||Native American tribes such as the Haida from Alaska used bone or shell to stretch their earlobes which were considered signs of wealth or high rank within society.|
|Oceania||The Maori people from New Zealand practiced earlobe stretching using stone plugs or 'tawatawa' made from albatross bone.|
This geographic distribution shows us that despite cultural differences around the world, there is a shared human fascination towards modifying our bodies to express identity or societal standing with stretching ears. As we move into more modern times, these practices have evolved but continue to hold significance today through contemporary forms like new styles of body jewelry offered by retailers such as PlugYourHoles.
Studying these ancient practices can teach us about our ancestors' belief systems. Each culture had its own specific reasons behind why they chose to stretch their ears, whether it be spiritual belief systems tied up with notions about life after death, aesthetic preferences influenced by local natural resources available at hand, or political structures determining who could partake in certain types of body modifications. All these factors shaped what we know today about this fascinating aspect of human history.
Though stretching continued throughout the world, the biological need of maintaining healthy lobes would've still stayed in-tact throughout the ages, requiring people to source natural oils to use as forms of lubrication to maintain healthy stretched ears. Little remains as to which oils were used as lubrication for ear stretching for each region, though their lobes became remarkable enough to know about thousands of years ago. Each culture having stretched ears would've had their own approaches to sizing up and aftercare when it came to stretching their ear piercing holes to larger diameters.
From primitive methods to modern techniques, the journey of stretching reveals a fascinating evolution in health and safety practices. In ancient times, sanitation was not a priority, and infections were common.
As civilizations advanced, so did an understanding of health implications related to body modifications like ear piercing stretching. The introduction of sterilization techniques marked a turning point in ensuring safer practices.
Sterilization: A Game Changer, maintaining sterility during any form of body modification is crucial today than ever before because infections could lead to serious risks if not treated properly.
Professional Standards: Organizations such as Association Of Professional Piercers (APP), provide guidelines on best practices covering aspects ranging from studio hygiene protocols to appropriate aftercare advice nowadays.
Evolving Materials: Towards safer options, today's options include biocompatible metals like implant-grade stainless steel along with synthetic alternatives such as silicone (used after completely healed from recent stretches) which are considered safe for long-term wear without causing allergic reactions unlike some traditional substances previously utilized.
The pursuit towards even safer stretching has happened for thousands of years, and we're still advancing our approach for maintaining healthy lobes. The understanding of health and safety in the practice of ear stretching care has significantly evolved over time. In the early days, the focus was primarily on achieving the desired aesthetic, with little regard for the potential damage to the soft tissue of the earlobe.
The evolution of health and safety understanding in piercing stretching has led to safer practices that prioritize the wellbeing of the individual while still allowing for personal expression.
Today, we understand that the health of the earlobe tissues is paramount. It's now widely accepted that stretching should only be performed on fully healed piercings to minimize the risk of damage to the soft tissue. Stretching an unhealed piercing can cause issues ranging from mild to more severe.
Today there's a greater emphasis on aftercare in modern piercing stretching practices. Proper cleaning and care of stretched ears are crucial to maintaining the health of the earlobe tissues and preventing complications ranging from mild to serious issues.
Rumors and Controversy arises when problems occur. When attributing the source of common problems that can happened when stretching lobes, there are many possibilities for the origin of the complication, and depending on several factors, including stage of stretching phase, materials used for stretching, amount of time waited to stretch after getting a piercing, etc, these issues can become a big deal and it can be a serious issue without the clear indication of the root cause of the concern.
As experts stated in their 2012 article titled “Body Piercing Complications and Prevention of Health Risks” published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, the researchers Jaimee Holbrook, Julia Minocha, Anne Laumann reported, “When it comes to piercing complications, prevention is the key. Body piercers should take a complete medical and social history to identify conditions that may predispose an individual to complications, and candidates should choose a qualified practitioner to perform their piercing.”
That's just with a fresh piercing, however, there are other risks to avoid with ear stretching which have existed since the dawn of stretching ears, include: tears, blowouts, uneven stretching, jewelry allergies, infection, inflammation, hematoma and bleeding, thinning of the lobe and lost of elasticity, pain, and ear cheese smells-- to name a few. These risks existed for thousands of years since ear stretching began.
Stretched ear lobes has had a profound influence on modern body modification culture, significantly expanding the possibilities beyond traditional ear piercings.
The practice of having one's ears pierced is an age-old tradition, serving as the initial piercing for many people. However, beginning ear stretching takes this concept further, allowing individuals to modify their bodies in more noticeable and unique ways.
This act of transforming a simple ear piercing into a larger, more visible modification has inspired many to explore other forms of body modification. The creativity and personal expression inherent in earlobe stretching have helped to normalize and popularize other types of modifications within modern culture.
In essence, earlobe stretching has played a significant role in shaping the landscape of modern body modification, pushing boundaries and inspiring new methods of self-expression.
Earlobe stretching is a form of body modification with a rich and diverse history. It has been practiced globally, from tribes in Kenya to cultures in the Amazon Basin, and even among youth in Thailand and individuals in the U.S.
Historically, stretched ears symbolized various cultural aspects such as status, wealth, age, religion, and beauty. In some cultures, like the Massai tribe, larger stretched ears were signs of wisdom, largely associated with elders. In others, stretched ears and lips indicated maturity and marriageable age.
Today, earlobe stretching remains a popular form of self-expression due to its deep roots in history. This practice has also influenced other forms of body modifications, paving the way for more creative and unique expressions of individuality.
Despite its ancient origins, ear stretching 101 continues to evolve, with modern practices focusing on safety and health alongside aesthetics. Whether for cultural adherence or personal expression, the art of stretched ear lobes remains a significant part of body modification culture.
From ancient cultures to modern times, stretched ear lobes have been a symbol of beauty, status, and spirituality. Today, stretching ears is a popular form of self-expression, with a wide range of jewelry and techniques available. So whether you're stretching ears now or a fashionista, there's something fascinating about the journey of stretching through time.
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