16 centimeters long, cylindrical and equipped with a narrow shaft: what is described here is not what you think. Or maybe yes?
It was 1992 when archaeologists discovered several ancient everyday objects in a ditch at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, near Hadrian's Wall in northern England. The remains of shoes, clothing accessories and handicraft waste products (leather remnants, processed antlers) were uncovered. And right in the middle there was a wooden club made of young ash. So the archaeologists classified this roughly 2,000-year-old find as a "tamping tool" and let the matter rest.
Now, around 30 years later, two researchers are no longer satisfied with this explanation. One of them, Robert Sands of Ireland's University College Dublin, suggested: "Maybe someone was uncomfortable or didn't think the Romans would do such silly things".
"It's kind of obvious that it's a penis," fellow archeology lecturer Rob Collins at Britain's Newcastle University told The Guardian newspaper. Together with Robert Sands, he once again examined the phallic object in great detail. They published their results in the journal Antiquity.
Probably the most important finding from the study has to do with the surface of the wooden object. It's quite smooth - suggesting the stick was routinely rubbed against something else. However, this does not necessarily mean that the phallus was used as a sex toy. According to Collins and Sands, three possible uses can be envisaged.
Number one: The club could have served as a pestle in a mortar. However, the fact that the researchers did not find any obvious discoloration or stains speaks against this.
Number two: the object could have been a so-called herm, a kind of phallic talisman made of either stone or wood. Both the Romans and the Greeks often placed such phalluses in front of entrances or attached them to statues and buildings. Passers-by rubbed the herm for protection. According to Collins and Sands, Vindolanda's find shows no signs of weather damage. Also the wear spots would not fit. So the theory is probably out.
So only theory number three remains: The wooden penis was used as a dildo. "We know that the ancient Romans and Greeks used sexual objects - this object from Vindolanda may be an example," Collins said in a press release. And further: "If that is the case, to our knowledge it would be the first Roman dildo found in archaeology."
It is possible that the sex object was not even used for penetration but for clitoral stimulation. According to Collins and Sands, the antique dildo showed "heavier wear marks" at the two ends than in the middle.
But beware! To describe the phallus as a "sex toy" does not quite fit the historical context. Because pleasure was not necessarily in the foreground. "Such items may also have been used to maintain a power imbalance, say between an enslaved person and their owner," the study says. Sexual violence played a large part in Roman society, as evidenced by literature from the period.
From today's perspective, the antique dildo looks almost plain. However, the researchers suspect that the wooden penis was carved by an experienced artist. Originally, the phallus could even have been a little longer. According to the study, archaeological wood tends to shrink and warp.
Here's the next great discovery: