The History and Culture of Stretched Ears

People have been decorating and making changes to the appearance of their bodies since recorded history began. This has taken many forms through the ages, such as tattooing, piercing, stretching, scarring, branding, muscle sculpture, hair styling and many more, and for almost as many different reasons.

The three major purposes of these forms of body modification have historically been tribal (to display allegiance to one tribe or group of people), in war (to scare the enemy and distinguish friend from foe), and for fashion and perceived beauty. Ear stretching has been popular for centuries, but this popularity has increased in Western culture in recent years.

For some, there is a profound spirituality in the protracted process of stretching ears, while for others it is fun and more involved than simple ear piercing, and the fact that fewer people do it adds to its appeal. Others have their own reasons, but irrespective of these, stretched ears have always been part of human history and will continue to be so.

Reasons For Stretching Ears

Just as with other forms of body modification or enhancement, people have historically stretched their ears for a number of reasons. For some cultures, this represented a coming of age, while for others it was carried out to enhance beauty or sexuality. Throughout the ages it has been used both for religious reasons and to protect the subject from witchcraft or evil. Ear stretching is still carried out all over the world for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned above.

If you travel to Africa, you will find that stretched ears are common among many indigenous peoples, including the Maasia in east Africa, the Mursi in Ethiopia, and it is also carried out in some Asian countries such as Thailand. In South America, stretched ears are common amongst the Huaorami of the Amazon Basin, but you generally need go no further than your own hometown to see some excellent examples of ear stretching. Stretched piercings and flesh tunnels are now a common form of ear adornment for Western youth.

Icemen and Pharaohs

One of the more famous examples from history is Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year-old mummified body found in the Alps between Austria and Italy. In addition to several tattoos, Ötzi had an ear stretched to around 7 mm – 11 mm diameter. The giant Easter Island statues display stretched ear lobes, the likely reason for them being known as ‘Long Ears’. The story goes that the statues were carved in honour of the original inhabitants of the island representing them with the earlobe stretchings that were part of their culture. When a different tribe arrived on the island, they were known as ‘Short Ears’, and were forced into slavery by the Long Ears. Eventually there were more Short Ears than Long Ears, and the latter were overthrown and the statues toppled over.

In Egypt, the boy king Tutankhamen is represented as having stretched ears, and his famous golden death mask features holes that can take 10 mm diameter bars. The processes used to stretch these famous sets of ears are not known, because there are many techniques that can be used. It is likely that primitive stretchings were carried out using wooden plugs or bamboo, and although a few people like to return to these early methods, they are not recommended today for health reasons.

Stretching Ears is Not Reversible

If you are interested in stretched ears, there are certain factors of which you should be aware. The first is that it is generally permanent. Once stretched, your ears stay that way. The holes do not heal over like a normal ear piercing, so make sure that you are happy with having stretched ears for the rest of your life. There is time at the beginning to stop and allow your ears to heal back to normal, but once the diameter reached 10-12 mm, it is too late and the hole will not close up. Another is that it takes time and patience. You do not visit a piercer and come out after an hour or two with stretched ears!

If you have decided that you want it done, you are advised to have the procedure carried out professionally. Yes, you can go it alone, but a professional will provide you with the best results, and it will also be safer. It will be quicker if your ears are already pierced, because otherwise you will need that done first and then wait up to 8 weeks for it to heal. Then you can start of the stretching, or gauging as it is often referred to.

That is because the diameter of the needles used is referred to as their ‘gauge’. The gauge of a needle drops as the diameter increases, so that an 18-gauge needle is small – in fact, that’s the gauge of an average initial piercing. Once you reach a 2 gauge, the diameter is that of a pencil and so on down. An 11 mm hole is 000-gauge (actually 11.11 mm or 7/16 inch).

Ear Stretching Should Not Be Rushed

As already explained, ear stretching is a slow process, and you should never try to rush it. If you try to rush, it will likely take longer eventually because unless the ear has time to get used to each lower gauge it won’t heal properly. You might then have to start all over again. Gauged ears should not bleed and there is distinct procedure to follow. Fundamentally, you increase the diameter of the piercing in small steps, allowing healing between each step. A common way to achieve this is to use an insertion taper, where one end of the taper is the same diameter as your existing hole, and the other side is of larger diameter.

This can be in the form of a stud that you wear until you are ready for the next size up. The next stud will have one end at the current diameter and the other at the lower gauge (larger diameter). That is pushed through and secured, and you wear that until the next insertion, and so on. If you keep your ears and jewellery clean and sterilized between sessions using anti-bacterial soap or saline solution then you should heal fine between each session – allow about two weeks between sessions.

Take the Advice of the Pros

It is very important to follow the advice of the professionals, and do not try to cut corners. Many people have ruined their ears by failing to be patient, so don’t let that be you. Follow cleaning instructions to the letter, both during and after the entire stretching process. There are many different types of ear jewellery available for stretched ears, including flesh tunnels, bars and rings.

There is also a wide choice of materials, from wood or plastic to gold and platinum. Many prefer glass while others find Teflon best, particularly if they suffer allergies. Niobium, surgical stainless steel and titanium are also popular materials for stretched ear jewellery.

Keep in mind that not all can be worn indefinitely, particularly the porous materials such as wood, shell and some plastics that can harbour bacteria, yeasts and fungi. Such jewellery should be regularly removed and thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Ear stretching sets you apart from the usual crowd, and can be a very distinctive form of ornamentation. It is something that few people regret having done.

History of Ear Gauging in Tribal Civilizations

A study of the history of ear gauging indicates the practice to be as old as recorded human history. For males, this form of ear piercing has been a symbol of status, while for women, in addition to being used as means of bodily decoration, it has also been employed to signify the attainment of womanhood.

Ear gauging, which is also referred to as ear stretching, is the stretching of ear lobe piercings to larger diameters than that of the original piercing. It is a form of body enhancement or beautification that many young western people adopt to look ‘different’ from the usual crowd. However, this is not a modern form of body piercing, since it has been around for as long as archaeological records exist.

In many cases, ear gauging has been used historically to indicate the standing of members of a specific tribe, and in many respects this is still the situation today. Stretched piercings have been, and still are, a reflection on the individual’s sexual capability and also their superiority over other males in the tribe. The larger the stretching, the more important the individual.

Otzi the Iceman is a prime example of mummies known to have stretched ears. This is the earliest known example of ear gauging, Otzi having 7-11 mm ear piercings during 3300 BC. It has been suggested that the stretching of the ears noted in depictions of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as Buddha, may have been caused by the weight of the gold jewelry he wore, but this is mere supposition.

It is supported, however, by the fact that the Masai tribe of Kenya and the Lahu and Karen-Paduang people of Thailand use this ‘gravity’ technique to stretch their piercings. Let us have a look at the ear gauging practices used today by various cultures.

A. Mursi Tribal Women

The Mursi is an Ethiopian tribe where the women are obliged to wear plates in their gauged ears and on their bottom lip. About a year prior to her marriage, or at about 15 years of age, a Mursi girl’s lip will be pierced by her mother and a wooden peg pushed through the incision.

Once healed, the peg is changed for a larger diameter one. Eventually, the peg is replaced by a plate of clay or wood, and this plate is successively changed for larger diameter ones until the required diameter is attained – from around 8 – 22 cm in diameter (3 – 9 inches). Once these plates have been secured, she receives a higher degree of respect than those without them, and is known as a ‘Bhansanai’.

These lip and ear plates need not be worn permanently, but are an expected adornment during special occasions such as during weddings and other celebrations, and when they serve food to men. Today, young women can generally make their own decision as to whether or not they follow this tradition.

B. The Masai People of Kenya

The practice of ear gauging has been common among Masai men and women for thousands of years. In recent years, however, most young men have not been following this custom, although you will still find many Masai women wearing ear decorations made from stones, cross-cut elephant tusks, wood and animal bones.

The original piercing is carried out using a thorn, sharpened twig or a sharp knife point. Once healed, ear gauging is then carried out by wearing increasingly heavy jewellery that pulls the lobe down and stretches the piercing. This is the traditional way of gauging ears in the more primitive cultures, although many Masai today will use proper ear gauging techniques, such as their own versions of insertion tapers or taper spikes. Beads are a common form of ornamentation, although plugs made from bone, tusks and wood are also used.

C. The African Fulani Tribe

Fulani women from Nigeria and Central Africa tend to use smaller diameter ear gauges, and decorate them using large gold domes or hoops carrying earrings. A Fulani child will have her ears pierced at around 3 years old, although they may not be stretched until she is older. The gauges used by Fulani women are relatively small compared to the Masai and Mursi, although the jewellery can be larger.

D. Asian Hill Tribes

Of the various hill tribes, the only two known to practice ear gauging are the Lahu from Thailand, and the Karen-Padaung (Longnecks) from Myanmar (Burma) and also the Phrae province in Thailand. That latter tribe are best known for their neck rings, offering the appearance of long necks, but both cultures believe the ear to be sacred and the more jewellery they can wear on the better. By gauging their ears, they are able to wear the maximum amount of jewellery they believe possible.

E. Mexican and Central American Civilizations

In Mayan and Aztec society, ear gauging was regarded as desirable for males. There are many Mayan representations of men with flares and ear plugs (ear spools) in gauged ears, and the material used was indicative of the social standing of the wearer. Jade ear plugs were worn by the higher classes, while the rest would use bone, stone, wood and other materials. In central Mexico, the craftsmanship of the Aztecs is evident in the ear gauging plugs and ornaments of gold and silver, though the lower classes would adorn their stretches earlobes with shells, copper and wood among many other imaginative materials.

Ear gauging has been carried out worldwide, and among other notable areas involved in this practice are Japan, where the Ainu used ear jewellery made from shells, bone and a ball and ring known as Ninkari. There are many other cultures worldwide where ear gauging was a part of their life, and even today many people regard ear stretching as a fashion statement and a way of expressing their own personality and individuality.

Artist’s Signatures – How Do They Change the Value of Art?

Signed in pencil, signed in the plate, what does all of this mean? The way a print is signed and it’s impact on the value of the art causes a great deal of confusion. You will see prints that are unsigned, signed in the plate, stamped signature, estate signed and signed with a blindstamp. There are no hard and fast rules about how an artist should sign their graphic art. It is more important to know what the normal procedure was for the time period and what the normal practice was for that particular artist.

Centuries ago, most artists never considered signing their art. Numbers of pieces are unsigned, but that does not mean that the artist is unknown or that it was not done or approved by him or that it has no value. Rembrandt, considered one of the greatest etchers did not sign a number of his etchings. Most of the modern masters, Picasso, Chagall, Miro, did not sign certain editions. This is when it is important to work with a knowledgeable dealer since unscrupulous people have forged pencil signatures on authentic art in order to command a higher price.

Signed in the plate means that the artist has signed their name in the matrix (wood, metal, stone, etc) so that it is printed within the art. This is the way that an artist would sign their work up until the 19th Century and many of the earlier artists would not have done that much if it had not be decreed by guild law. Generally speaking, because in art there are always exceptions, a plate signed work of art is more desirable than an unsigned piece, but is less desirable than one signed in pencil. Since artist from the 14th to late 19th Century did not sign their art in pencil, the lack of a pencil signature has no impact on the value.

Signed in pencil is usually the type of signature that collectors prefer.

It has become a tradition for the artist to sign their name in the lower margin under the image. They may also include the edition number, title and date. We can thank James McNeil Whistler for helping to introduce and promote the hand written signature at the end of the 19th century. The hand signed signature signified the integrity of the print, that it is original and distinctive from a reproduction. Whistler charged twice as much for his hand signed pieces than he did his other pieces from the same edition, even though there was no difference in the quality of the art. Seymour Haden would sign his name to any of his earlier unsigned etchings for a guinea. Picasso sold 15000 signatures for the Vollard Suite.

Unfortunately, the hand signed signature no longer has this same meaning since many artists sign and number their offset lithographic or giclee reproductive prints. Nor is this a new phenomenon, Kathe Kollwitz signed photolithographic reproductions of one of her aquatint series. Still, the implied message has remained and pieces that are hand signed generally are more valuable than ones that are not. What makes all of this very confusing is that it is possible to have a fake signature on an authentic work of art and an authentic signature on a reproductive work of art.

Sometimes, instead of hand signing the art or signing in the plate, an artist will use a stamp of their signature and apply it to the art, usually in the lower margin where you would normally find the hand signature. A stamped signature will sometimes be confused for a hand signed signature.

Heirs and estates have been creating posthumous editions or reproductive editions that bears a special signature. They sign the art to give the impression that it would have been authorized by the artist if they had not died. These signatures could be hand signed, stamped signatures or blindstamps by the heirs, museums or any authorized organization. The value of these is usually much lower than lifetime impressions. But of course, there are always exceptions!

Common And Uncommon Body Piercings

Though there are many piercings that can be done, you see only a few of them in the majority of clientele. Although any part of the body can be pierced, they are separated into categories. There are soft tissue, cartilage, and surface piercings. Soft tissue are by far the most common. Soft tissue piercings will penetrate the thickness of the body segment, with the jewelry protruding from opposite sides (earlobes, eyebrows, nipples). Soft tissue piercings tend to heal easily for most, with proper care. They are usually done with a ring (captive), but after the piercings heal properly, can adorn an assortment of jewelry. The minimum gauge for soft tissue piercings are 20 Gauge, but are pierced mostly with 14 Gauge.

Cartilage piercings such as septum (inner nose), and ear cartilage are generally more difficult to heal, and are prone to infection if not cared for properly.

Surface piercings are usually the least common piercing. They tend to be more painful, and are not permanent. The life span of a surface piercing will depend on the area pierced. A corset (back piercing) can usually stay inside the skin up to 48 hours before the skin will start to tear.

The most common piercings are as follows:

Ear piercings:

- Lobe

- Tragus (the rounded part nearest to the face)

-Outer edge (rim)

-Conch (inner surfaces)

-Industrial (barbell crossing inner part of ear, pierced through two portions of cartilage)

Nose:

- Nostril

- Septum (center cartilage)

Facial:

- Eyebrow

- Lip

- Labret (between lip and chin)

Body:

- Nipples

- Navel

The more uncommon piercings include:

Face:

- Bridge of nose

- Madonna (upper lip, with lebret stud)

- Madison (base of throat)

- Vampires kiss (side of neck)

- Back of neck

Extremities:

- Web between the thumb and fingers

- Surfer (web between toes)

Genitals:

- Clitoris (horizontal or vertical)

- Hood (the hood of the clitoris, horizontal or vertical)

- Inner and outer labia

- T’aint (between vagina, or penis and anus)

- Fourchette (back edge of vaginal opening)

- Triangle (beneath clitoris)

- Prince albert (base of head, through urethra)

- Queen victoria (center top of head, through urethra)

- Apadravya (vertically through head)

- Ampallang (horizontally through head)

- Frenum/ Lorum (horizontal base of the head, or along shaft)

- Hafada (scrotum)

- Forskin

- Dydoe (through ridge of circumsized head)