Early Body Decoration and Markings

Man wearing bracelets and individual rudrakshra seeds pinned to his skin. His tongue is pierced with an iron trident.

If jewelry is a form of body decoration and if we define body decoration as a means to embellish, disguise, or transfigure the body, then we must also consider the most elemental of substances used as ‘jewelry.’ Early forms of body adornment in many early cultures consisted of painting the body, body piercings, or other type of ‘jewelry’ application to the body.

Various cultures implemented such a primitive phase of jewelry, such as the Egyptians, Africans, most tribal cultures … and even the French.

In the court of King Louis XVI, noblewomen drew blue veins around the decoltee to emphasize the their exalted status. This was referred to as “bluebloods.”

In prehistoric India, ash, mud, and pigments were commonly used to either fully or partially cover the body in culturally significant patterns or symbols. When celebrating a festival, the application of mud or pigment were of a more decorative nature worn by rural, tribal, or professional dancers on the face and body. Some of these painted decorations had a semi-relgious purpose. Beggars, magicians, and street performers temporarily streaked, painted, and patterned themselves purely to attract attention.

African body art uses the human body as a way to express individual status, beliefs, or ethnic affiliations. These decorative markings could be done as tattoos, scarifications, coiffures, or simply body painting. Some African cultures meant for body art to be worn on the body in the form of garments or jewelry.

Untracht, Oppi. Traditional Jewelry of India. New York: Henry Abrams, Inc., 1997. Print. p. 24-24.




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