Chains through the ages: a short history of body jewellery


In recent years, body jewellery has trended and has now come into fairly widespread use thanks to its rise in popularity among pop stars. What many of us may not know is that our body chains, or our girlfriend’s body chains, actually have a long and intricate history that stretches back into prehistory, much like jewellery in general.
The meanings behind the chain itself are varied but have remained somewhat consistent, if not paradoxical, through the ages. They can be positive, representing eternity as a perfect circle without beginning or end; symbolising eternal love, or embodying unbreakable friendship. However, chains can also be negative when they represent bondage. Religious symbolism has also been closely associated with the chain. Hinduism uses the chain to symbolise karma, while Christianity associated golden chains with a connection to God.
Whatever they meant, the popularity of the chain never dwindled. Early Europeans were using chains to make necklaces and bracelets as early as early as 11,000 BC. Round about the same time, early Russians were using chains to hang pendants.
In the Middle East, the Mesopotamians made a significant contribution to the evolution of the chain. They began churning them out roughly 5,000 years ago, a fact we know thanks to the Royal Cemetery of Ur, where hundreds of burials from between 2900 and 2300 BC have been unearthed. Many pendants were uncovered from the tomb of Puabi. The Mesopotamians also kept records of how their chains were manufactured.
It was round about the same time that Eastern dance traditions, such as belly dancing and Indian traditional dance, saw some early examples of the body chain being used to adorn dancers. These chains were made possible by the abundance of precious metals in the Indian subcontinent.
Such body jewellery remained fairly consistent until trade routes brought the West into contact with the Indian Subcontinent. It was probably during the late middle ages when modern Western civilisation rediscovered these body pieces. As the age of enlightenment came about during the 18th century, these pieces must have moved into the west through trade and interest in foreign culture. Imperialism brought India under the control of England and sparked massive interest in Indian culture. As belly dancing gained popularity in the Western psyche, these body chains moved more and more into the public awareness.
So it is very surprising that body chains have only begun gaining popularity in recent years.

Leave a comment


Please note, comments must be approved before they are published