History of Earrings – The Ancient World
General comments: It would be convenient to draw a single time-line describing the history of antique earrings, but in reality, different cultures exhibited different fashions and technical abilities at any given time. The antique earrings in the Ancient Orient differed to those worn in the Middle East, which were superior to anything known in Europe at the time. As men began to travel further afield, there was cultural and technical interchange and influence for what we call antique earrings. And yet, even today, while economists speak of globalisation, there are vast differences between earrings in the West and those worn in the Far East and Africa. Here, we will talk about some of the general trends.
The Ancient World:
Earrings compliment out looks, but in the Ancient world, they served to show which social, political or religious group or clan you belonged to, your social status, wealth and class within the group. Antique Earrings flashed wealth or divulged your status as a slave. Today, there are clear distinctions between earring styles worn by different cultures in the non-western world. Antique earrings, both pendants and hoops, worn 7000 years in Egypt or Asia, signified that the wearer belonged to a particular class. Early cultures believed that evil spirits could enter the body via any orifice. Earrings were seen as a means to plug up the ears and prevent such an invasion. The magical powers attributed to antique earrings are wide and varied, for example is the belief that they strengthened weak eyes. This belief persisted in France as late as the 1800’s.
While earrings are clearly mentioned many times in the Old Testament (stories about Moses and Abraham mention earrings to name just two), antique earrings for pierced ears were known in the Middle East from at least 3000 years ago. The oldest antique earrings were found in the royal graves in Iraq, home of the Ancient Assyrians. In 1989 the treasures of Nimrod, their capital city, considered on a par with King Tut’s tomb were excavated. About 50 kg of marvelous jewels including 8 pairs of identical earrings, owned by the Assyrian Queen were found. This intricate gold jewelry was technically superior to anything produced for many years afterwards. During the recent chaos and looting of the war in Iraq, some of these earrings landed up on the auction block in the USA and amidst much scandal, including Interpol’s swooping intervention, was finally brought back to the Iraq Museum.
If not clear by now, it should be pointed out that in Ancient times, jewelry was predominantly worn by men. Some walls of the Persian ancient palace of Persepolis, c500 BC., show carved figures of soldiers wearing earrings.