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One of the oldest mummies ever found had holes in his ears, and we know that ancient people inserted all sorts of wood, glass, bone, shells, and ivory into their ears as adornment. But modern piercing actually has its own peculiar origin story, one that twists and riffs on the ancient piercing practices in the history books.
In 1975, Jim Ward and his business partner, Doug Malloy (whose name was actually Richard Simonton, though that’s largely beside the point), opened a piercing studio in New York City called Gauntlet. The shop’s “menu” laid out a wide variety of piercing options, each with their own historical backstories — Roman officers used nipple rings to hold up their capes, Queen Victoria’s husband had a genital piercing — many of which just weren’t true.
But that didn’t stop new, adventurous body piercings from catching on in the ’70s and ’80s punk scenes in NYC and beyond.