From Blackbeard to Jack Sparrow, pirates and sailors of old are often depicted wearing earrings. But the gold hoops weren't just swashbuckling fashion statements they served several useful purposes.
Seamen proudly sported earrings as a mark of their travels and voyages. Earrings were given to young sailors to commemorate their first crossing of the equator, or when they rounded the treacherous waters of Cape Horn, the southernmost tip of South America.
Earrings were also worn for superstitious reasons. Some pirates were convinced that wearing an earring would improve or even cure bad eyesight, as they believed that the precious metals in an earring possessed magical healing powers. Another tale was that pierced ears would prevent seasickness. Others believed that a gold earring served as a protective talisman and that a man wearing an earring wouldn't drown.
This, of course, often proved to be false. But earrings made of silver or gold were worth enough to pay for a sailor's funeral if his body washed ashore. Some seamen even engraved the name of their home port on the inside of the earring so that their bodies could be sent to their families for a proper burial. If a man died on a ship, the earrings helped to cover the cost of transporting his body home so that he wouldn't be buried at sea or on foreign soil.
But wearing hoop earrings did serve one truly beneficial purpose for living sailors. "Pirates, especially those who fired the ships' cannons during close combat with the enemy, dangled wads of wax from their earrings to use as earplugs," Doug Lennox writes in "Now You Know Big Book of Answers."
Wearing earrings didn't protect pirates from drowning, seasickness or bad eyesight, but at least it helped protect them against hearing loss .