Ancient Greeks and Romans wore bracelets to signify power and authority! But...
Earrings today are pretty varied in style; from classic hoops to statement pieces and everything in between, there’s no shortage when it comes to finding a unique style. But what did the very first earrings look like? To understand this question, it’s first important to consider the history of earrings, and where in the world early humans wore them. After all, early civilisations had to rely on the resources around them in order to make decorative jewelry.
So, what did the first earrings look like? From Babylon to Ancient Greece, let’s take a look back through history at the evolution of these accessories. Let’s get started!
Did early humans wear earrings?
Yes! Humans have been wearing earrings for thousands of years; in fact, archeological discovery has proven that even some of the earliest known civilisations wore earrings in some form or another. For instance, ancient paintings from Egypt show female figures wearing rings through their ears, while in other cultures such as India, Bulgaria and even Britain, archaeologists have found evidence of both men and women wearing earrings dating all the way back to the Bronze Age.
What did the first earrings look like?
So, what did these early earrings look like? Given the massive difference in resources, climates, and tools available at the time, prehistoric earrings looked a little different depending on the region they were made. Plus, since many earrings were made out of organic materials such as bone or vegetable fibers, certain materials would naturally have rotted away over time, making it more difficult for an archeologist to decipher.
That being said, ancient earrings were often associated with cultural or social symbolism, and here’s what we know so far:
The oldest evidence of earrings dates back to 2500 B.C., in ancient Middle East civilizations, including Sumer and Babylon. These earliest earrings were made out of natural materials like shells, stones, and animal parts – as well as wood or ivory carved into shapes like circles or crescents. They’d then often be threaded with colorful cloth strips or beaded necklaces; pretty much anything that could add a bit of flair!
Earrings in Ancient Egyptian
When it comes to Ancient Egypt, Egyptians had an even more creative spin on what counted as jewelry. A popular motif was the cartouche (a nameplate), which symbolized the Pharaoh’s authority, and both men and women alike wore cartouche-engraved pieces of jewelry, both for aesthetic and symbolic purposes. Women would even wear them around their arms, wrists, necks and even ankles.
Earrings in Ancient Greece
By the time we got to Ancient Greece, earrings had changed shape again – this time to mimic the shapes of coins. This was likely because these coins were highly valued, and so wearing them as a piece of jewelry was an easy way of expressing elevated social status. Soapstone and glass beads, coral, pearls and even shells could also be found in Ancient Greek jewelry; it really depended on what resources were available at the time.
Earrings in Roman times
In Rome, earrings were a bit more subtle and delicate; think tiny gold hoops or pendants with intricate designs. The Romans used materials like silver, bronze, and gold to make their earrings, often setting precious stones such as emeralds or rubies into them. It was during this era that the idea of wearing earrings as a sign of affluence really took off, although both Greek and Roman men stopped wearing earrings once they became associated with “femininity”.
Earrings in the 16th-21st century
From prehistoric times through to the 16th century, cultures in Europe continued to adopt earrings as a symbolic fashion accessory. For example, in 16th century France, earrings became the must-have accessory for royal families and aristocrats alike; a pair of pearl or diamond earrings was an easy way to distinguish the nobility and the upper classes from their peasant counterparts.
Meanwhile in the 18th and 19th centuries, earrings moved away from being seen as a sign of wealth or status – and instead became more of a fashion statement. From artisans creating beautiful bejeweled pieces to the mass production of costume jewelry, earrings no longer needed to be made out of precious metals for them to be seen as stylish.
Throughout the 20th century, earrings continued to be an important part of fashion – and now, in 2023, there’s a never-ending variety of styles ranging from dainty studs to chandelier designs, from 22k gold earrings to custom-crafted pendant earrings and hoops.