Great Nose Jewelry Through 46 Centuries

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    I recently read a report that archaeologists in Mexico, near the city of Palenque, had found a nose ornament made of human bone. It is said to have given important Mayan leaders a divine appearance.
    During my visit to Chichen Itza, an enormous Mayan temple in the middle of the jungle of Mexico, I had already come across an image of a king with nose jewelry.

    When I was teaching Aboriginal children in the 1970s, I met an older boy with a bone or jewelry through his nose. And while working as a tour operator in India and Nepal, it was almost crazy that I didn’t wear nose jewelry, since all the women around me had one. One more beautiful and bigger than the other, but I was an exception here.

    What is it about nose jewelry, where do they come from, what is their origin and, above all, why is it that wearing nose jewelry has become increasingly popular in the West since the 1960s? And then there is not just one type of nose jewelry, but I have seen four types. Time to delve deeper into this… with this blog.

    Septum nose jewelry, made of bone
    Septum nose jewelry, made of bone
    Indian temple dancer with a nath, an Indian nose jewel
    Indian temple dancer with a nath, an Indian nose jewel

    The origin

    I can be brief about that. There are so many opinions, supported by ‘facts’, that a unanimous answer to the question is impossible. But let me give a quick overview so you can form your own opinion.

    How old is nose jewelry

    To find out more about nose jewelry, you may first wonder how old the use of nose jewelry is. That goes back a long way, to about 46,000 years. And you have to go to Australia, where excavations show that people lived with a bone through their nose.

    There is a story in the Bible about nose jewelry, which dates from about 4500 BC. In the book of Genesis 24:22, it is written that Abraham sends his servant to find a suitable wife for Isaac, his son. That servant returns with the girl Rebecca. Abraham gives her a ‘Shanf’, which translates from Hebrew, a nose ring, a gold nose ring to be precise.

    Another source from the Bible (12 Ezekiel 16) reports ‘and I will put a ring on your nose, and earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head’.

    The piercing in the nose as we know it today has its origins in the Middle East and then you have to go back about 6,500 years. We mainly find nose rings among the ancient Sumerians, but we also encounter them in Iraq, some parts of Mesopotamia, and Iran. We know this because we find quite a few statues and reliefs showing people with nose rings.

    In ancient Egypt, we come across nose jewelry from 1500 BC onwards, which was worn by men and women and was made of gold and silver.

    But actually, you see nose jewelry popping up all over the world at some point, in India and the rest of Asia, but also in North and South America. And as mentioned earlier in Australia.

    Those nose jewelry do not look the same in every continent, country, or even region. The meaning of this jewelry also differs as the reason why people wear them. To keep things a bit clear, I describe the culture of nose jewelry in this blog per region. And we are initially only talking about the nose piercing, i.e. a hole in the nostril, where a nose ring can be worn.

    African lady with a nose and septum piercing with nose jewelry.
    African lady with a nose and septum piercing with nose jewelry.
    African lady with a golden nose ring.
    African lady with a golden nose ring.

    Tribes in the Middle East and Africa

    In these cultures (Bedouin, Berber, and Beja tribes) the nose ring is the equivalent of a dowry. This gold ring can vary in size depending on the social status and wealth of the bride’s family. It is made of gold, which means financial independence for the bride in case the man dies or sends her away.

    In Africa, the nose ring also had a symbolic meaning. The piercing symbolizes the connection between the physical body and the divine. The Berber tribes of North Africa believed that nose piercings protected the wearer from bad spirits and were a kind of doorway to positive energy.

    The ancient Sumerians and Assyrians wore such jewelry as a body decoration to emphasize femininity and beauty. These nose jewelry could be very different in shape and material.

    Because you may be beautiful, but you also want to be unique and one of the options is a piece of jewelry that does not resemble that of your girlfriend. Moreover, you can show what social status you have and how rich you are.


    As already mentioned, nose jewelry came into fashion in Egypt around 1500 BC, and was mainly worn by women from the ‘city’ and countryside. The ladies from Siwa (western oasis in Egypt) did not participate in this. In Egypt, it was believed that the nose was connected to the reproductive organs and that a nose ring would promote fertility.

    In Upper Egypt, the nose ring was called ‘khuzam’. This ring was about 3 centimeters in diameter, made of bronze and beads, and was worn on the right side of the nostril.

    In the Bahariya oasis people wore gold nose jewelry (piercing), made of 12-carat gold (filigree and granulation), and the lower part was decorated. Silver was not used for this jewelry because the ladies were convinced that silver damaged the fine veins in the nose. In Bahariya the nose ring was worn only by married women on the left side of the nostril. It would prevent pain and headaches.

    In the Sinai desert region, the nose ornament was called a ‘shenaf’. It was made of gold with colored beads and elements attached to the bottom of the ring.

    In Nubia (the southern part of Egypt) the nose ring is known as a ‘zimam’ and was made of 21-carat gold, just like the Rashayda tribe (now in Somalia). The nose jewelry of the Bahariya and the Rashayda are similar but without the filigree decoration.

    Indian bride with a nose ring and little chain to keep the nose jewelry up
    Indian bride with a nose ring and little chain to keep the nose jewelry up
    Indian lady wearing a small and larger nose ring.
    Indian lady wearing a small and larger nose ring.


    You would think that all nose jewelry comes from Indian culture, but that is not true. The story goes that the nose ring became popular when the Moghuls conquered India (but also a large part of Asia) in the 16th century and took this jewelry with them.

    However, some doubt this version because nose rings are already mentioned in Ayurvedic manuscripts from the 8th century BC. In ancient medicinal texts, women would recommend wearing the nose ring to facilitate childbirth and relieve menstrual pain. The nose ring on the left nostril touches a pressure point, which is related to the reproductive system.

    However, there is no doubt about the popularity of nose jewelry in the culture of India. You will find old images of female goddesses with such jewelry everywhere, images on walls, paintings, reliefs, etc.

    There is a statue of Goddess Kanyakumari, one of the manifestations of Goddess Parvati, in a temple in South India, which is adorned with a diamond nose ring. When the sun shines on that diamond, the sparkle is so bright that it can be seen from the sea.

    The nose ring is called the ‘nath’ in India and has been a symbol of the married woman since the 9th century. A complete nath consists of a nose ring with a chain attached to an earring or hairpiece. That complete nath is usually worn on the wedding day to honor Goddess Parvati.

    The nath is not only a sign of a woman’s marital status but also a sign of social status. Rich ladies wear a nath of gold with pearls, and sapphires made with the Kundan technique. The lower classes have to be satisfied with a nath of silver.

    From the 15th century onwards, the nath and the material from which it is made have evolved. For example, in the 17th and 18th centuries, cloves and thorns were also used.

    In some tribes in India, women do not wear a nath but a septum ring, which does not go through the nostril, but through the septum or the septum of the nose. The ring then hangs under the nostrils.

    Indian tribe girl with nose wing and septum jewelry.
    Indian tribe girl with nose wing and septum jewelry.
    Nepalese girl with nose jewelry on both sides of her nose.
    Nepalese girl with nose jewelry on both sides of her nose.

    South America

    Around 900 BC and before the rise of the Inca Empire in the 13th century, cultures that had a lot of gold lived on the coasts of Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. And they didn’t use that to mint coins but to make jewelry. These people belonged to the Chavin, Chimu, Moche, and Vicus cultures.

    At the temple of Chichen Itza in the northern temple of the great Ballcourt you can see a relief of a man with a nose piercing of a kind of bone through his nose. This means that this figure had a high social status.

    In the Yucatan (Mexican Peninsula), nose jewelry among the Mayans and the other existing cultures in this area were all a little different. The Mayans had a ring decorated with a bead through the septum of the nose. The other tribes used a nostril piercing, but also with a bead.

    In my search for special nose rings, I ended up in Peru. Many nose rings have been found in graves, which were worn not so much by women, but by men. Besides the fact that these Peruvian nose rings, made of gold, were very expensive and only worn by the upper classes, they also had a meaning.

    For example, there were fairly large nose rings in the shape of a spider web with spiders in it. These were worn on the coast of Peru, where there was a desert-like climate. The spiders symbolize water and the fertility of the land. Something that could be put to good use in that dry climate.

    These nose rings not only represented the wealth of the wearer but also the wishes regarding the environment, such as the climate and a good harvest. This wish was extensively demonstrated to everyone by making the nose ring so large that it sometimes covered the entire face.

    South American painting depicting a king with septum nose jewelry (a nose bone)
    South American painting depicting a king with septum nose jewelry (a nose bone)
    Antique Peruvian golden nose jewelry depicting a spider web.
    Antique Peruvian golden nose jewelry depicting a spider web.


    In Australia, people had nose piercings and septum rings. During the ceremony at which the boy became a man, the boys had their nose septum pierced, through which a bone was pushed. The nose was also intended to be flattened, which was considered an ideal of beauty in Australia. The girls had their nostrils pierced by their husbands to symbolize their marital status.

    The nose jewelry is becoming popular in the Western world

    Between 1960 and 1970, the hippie movement became popular among youth in the Western world. Who doesn’t remember Woodstock, the swinging dresses, the BOHO style, and… the nose piercings containing the nose jewelry, usually in the form of studs.

    The Hippie movement preached freedom, free speech, individuality, and a free lifestyle. You were in charge of your stomach and body, so that body could be decorated, either with piercings or then to a lesser extent with tattoos.

    In the US, but also Europe, nose jewelry and tattoos were received less enthusiastically by the establishment, because it was sometimes a reason not to hire you for a job.

    However, you see tattoos and nose piercings on so many people that this is difficult to maintain. The Hippie movement is over, but its expressions are not. To this day you still see expressions of that movement among the younger and older ‘youth’.

    So far in this blog, we have mainly talked about nose wing piercing, in which a piece of jewelry comes in the form of studs, rings, or rings with a chain. But there are also other forms of nose piercing where jewelry can be inserted, such as the septum piercing.

    Modern nose jewelry
    Modern nose jewelry
    Modern Indian nose jewelry
    Modern Indian nose jewelry

    Septum piercing and associated nose jewelry

    With a septum piercing, a very small soft spot in the septum of the nose is pierced and slightly stretched to accommodate nose jewelry. It looks a bit (sorry) like the nose ring you see on bulls.

    You can use 2 types of nose jewelry with a septum piercing. For example, a half ring, which you slide through the spacer so that the two ends of the ring fall outside your nose. There is usually a ball or cap on each side to keep the ring in place.

    Then you have a ring that goes through the opening and you also see a ring on the outside. Sometimes it remains a subtle ring that is visible, but you can also hang ornaments or a bead on it. This type of nose jewelry was and is popular with the Hindu temple dancers in India, but also with the Native American tribes. Among the Shawnee tribe, the leaders wore these nose jewelry.

    In rural areas of India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, this jewelry is often worn and is called ‘nathori’ (India) or ‘bulaki’ (Nepal). Older women sometimes have a septum piercing with a nostril piercing on both sides. They then have a piece of jewelry under the nose and on the nostrils. But it is also possible that the opening runs from one nostril through the septum to the other nostril. The jewelry is then a bar with caps on both sides. This is called a nasalang piercing.

    In Bangladesh, only married women have a septum jewelry and this is usually made of gold with an ornament on the ring.

    The people who have such a piercing in the West wear nose jewelry, such as captive bead rings, plugs, tusks, curls, circular barbells, or septum retainers.

    Old Nepalese lady with golden septum nose jewelry
    Old Nepalese lady with golden septum nose jewelry
    Nepalese lady with golden nose jewelry
    Nepalese lady with golden nose jewelry

    Bridge piercing with the jewelry

    And then we have a fourth option to decorate the nose with a beautiful piece of jewelry. If you have a bridge piercing, which means that you have a piercing through the loose skin between your eyes at the top of the nose, you can mainly wear curved barbells and straight barbells there.

    As I have hopefully made clear in this blog, nose jewelry is centuries old, it has a long tradition and the meaning that the wearer wants to convey with such a piece of jewelry is very diverse. It is a popular fashion item today, worn by many in many cultures. The size, material, and shape can differ and the jewelry designers can express a lot of their creativity in it.

    FlorenceJewelshop does not have nose jewelry in its collection, but that does not mean that we do not think it is a special piece of jewelry that certainly deserves attention. And nowadays they get that attention from the big fashion houses, who show their mannequins with nose jewelry.

    If you think nose jewelry is a bit too much, but don’t know which piece of jewelry suits you best, FlorenceJewelshop has a free PDF for you full of tips about which piece of jewelry looks best on you.
    You can download this free PDF and all you have to do is fill out this form so we can send you the link.

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