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Body modification has existed on Earth for thousands of years, since the beginnings of recorded and discovered history, and perhaps for as long as the human species has been around. But what about everywhere else? If there’s other intelligent life in the universe, would they be pierced and tattooed like us?  The answer is actually out of this world.

Scientists still disagree over whether intelligent life can even possibly exist in the universe, but knowing what we do now, many of them consider it an actual possibility. So if we assume that they’re right, we can begin to imagine what life in the cosmos might look like, if it does exist. The scientists who study life on Earth and build hypotheses about the likelihood of life on other planets are called astrobiologists, and according to some of them, the main ingredients of life on earth should be similar to those of life that may exist on other planets. Those ingredients include liquid water, and the chemical elements that form the basis for most carbon-based life on earth, including carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and phosphorus.

If we’re imagining that other intelligence exists, it’s assumed that several of the characteristics inherent to life on earth are extremely likely to be duplicated elsewhere in the universe. These include biological symmetry, some form of sight, skeletal structure, and a collection of limbs. So when we think of it in those terms, a mammalian-looking creature begins to emerge. And on we can creep to the question of the hour: would they be modified?

A great number of astrobiologists who believe this type of life potentially exists also believe that, like humans, extraterrestrial species would almost certainly be social creatures. This means that whether it’s through speech like us, silent gestures, other sounds like echolocation, or other means they would communicate readily with each other, and might even develop some type of social structure or hierarchy. And that’s where social behaviors like body modification come into play. So, amazingly, the answer is yes! If intelligent alien life does exist, it’s certainly possible that they would have formed habits that allow for alignment into different social groups, and these habits could include any number of body modifications.

Just like in human tribal culture, it’s possible that certain elements akin to our “septum piercing” and “ink tattooing” might hold value to determine group affiliation, societal class, or just to be aesthetically pleasing. So the next time you read a science fiction novel and aliens are being described, maybe picturing some of them with patterned tattooing or surface piercings isn’t so far fetched.

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