This earplug probably dates to the early New Kingdom (1550-1069BC). Earplugs are disks with a grooved edge, which were worn in a hole in the earlobe. Sometimes one or both faces were decorated, often with a rosette design. Such items seem to have been worn from the New Kingdom to the Third Intermediate Period.
When these bobbin shaped type of earrings were first found it was thought that they were indeed bobbin, or furniture knobs! However, no finds of yarn thread have been found in association with such items, instead thread is found in skeins or balls or around sticks (Vogelsang-Eastwood 2000, 278). Additionally, mummies have ears stretched enough to accomadate such plugs (though stretching could also be due to heavy earrings of a different design), mummies have been found with such plugs and there are 2 and 3 dimensional depictions of people wearing them. Most convincingly Andrews (1990, 114) cites an example of a female mummy found wearing a gold pair.
Earplugs are found in a number of New Kingdom burials and the tomb of Kenamen from the time of Amenhotep II (1427-1400 BC) shows a woman wearing what appear to be earplugs (although they could feasibly be very large ear studs). Earplugs may also be worn by the female musicians and guests in the tomb of Nebamun (though again these could be otherwise interpreted as loop earrings). The latter are gold coloured, though some have a rosette design similar to this example. Finally, the so-called wig holder from the 18th Dynasty tomb of vizier Aper-el (Aperia) at Saqqara also seems to be wearing earplugs. This even seems to show the skin stretched around the plug.
Female mummies with holes stretched to the extent that they would accommodate such large plugs have been excavated Winlock 1942, 111, pl.87 cited in Aldred 1971, 144 note 23). The mummy of Maiherpri, a Nubian Prince buried in KV36 has large guage ear holes (too large for studs but suitable for plugs). Daressey (1908, 36) notes that his ears had holes of 15mm in diameter ‘and there are others far larger’. The mummy in KV35 of Rameses V had extremely long ear lobes. Smaller holes have been found in the mummy of Tutankhamun and a double piercing is known from the ‘Younger Lady’ from KV35.
Similar artefacts have been found made of ivory or stone. The Petrie Museum has an ivory example (UC38313) and a limestone example (UC38379). The British Museum has a glass example (EA64162). A pair with gold attachments belonging to royalty date to the end of the 20th Dynasty. This pair was found on a female mummy at Abydos (Cairo CG52397-8; Andrews 1990, 114).
It has sometimes been said that earplugs are 18th Dynasty in date and derived from Egyptian ear studs, but a black stone earplug has been found at Kerma dating to the Hyksos Period, maybe suggesting that earplugs originate from the south.
Other ear decorations in the Egypt Centre
Andrews, C. 1990. Ancient Egyptian Jewellery. London: British Museum Press.
Aldred C. A. Jewels of the Pharaohs. Egyptian Jewellery of the Dynastic Period. London: Thames and Hudson.
Brovarski, E. Susan K. Doll, S.K. and Freed, R.E. eds. 1982, Egypt‘s Golden Age. The Art of Living in the New Kingdom. 1558-1085 BC. Museum of Fine Arts Boston.
Daressy, G. 1908. Catalogue of Jewels and Precious Objects of Setui and Tauosrit found in the Unnamed Tomb, In Davis, T.M. The Monkey Tomb and the Gold Tomb. The Discovery of the Tombs, London, 33 ff
Vogelsang-Eastwood, G. 2000. Textiles. In Nicholson, P. and Shaw, I. (eds.) Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge University Press, 268-298.
Winlock, H.E. 1942. Excavations at Deir el-Bahri, 1911-1931. New York.