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The practice of piercing is known to have existed for over 5,000 years at least, with the oldest mummified corpse ever discovered being found to have ears that were not only pierced through with organic material, but also stretched to accommodate decorations of nearly half an inch.  While it’s difficult to gauge the true origins of many ritual piercing techniques, some forms of piercing are known to have been practiced by specific indigenous peoples in different areas of the world at specific times, and this can provide a gross estimate of how long piercing of a particular body parts has been roughly taking place.

Tongue piercing, for example, is understood as having been a part of ritual bloodletting in now extinguished ancient South and Central American cultures, as well as some American Indian tribes native to the United States’ Pacific Northwest.  Several Native American tribes are thought to have performed piercings, and even suspension, as part of shamanic rituals to help them avoid spiritual possession, gain psychic knowledge or favor in battle, or to appease their gods.

In more extreme forms of modification, the tongue piercing will be stretched or “gauged” to accommodate very large jewelry including thick stainless plugs made from bone or organic material.  Though some peoples’ tongues are not easily plied or expanded, this type of up-sizing continues in modern day tongue piercing and is even popular to some degree, particularly among those who have multiple tongue piercings.

The first glimpse of tongue piercing in the United States came with the beginning of the twentieth century as a mysterious parlor trick performed in freak shows and traveling carnivals.  Techniques were later perfected and during the post World War II era when piercing began to popularize, some of the first US piercing shops on the American west coast began piercing tongues.  These same piercing professionals are credited in large part with the piercing’s success.

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