We all know that Indiana Jones was very handy with a whip, but just how saucy does archaeology get?
Sex has not always been taboo. In fact, it used to be celebrated. Symbols of the reproductive organs have been used for thousands of years as symbols of fertility, the naked body was idolised by the Ancient Greeks and erotica has very early roots.
The ‘items’ the history books don’t tell you about (figuratively and literally speaking) include flying phalli, an actual ‘dick head’, candid bestiality and a vagina with a hat to name but a few.
So if you’re easily offended- either embrace your inner ancestor or turn away now.
Erotic Archaeology- Who knew the archaeological record could be this naughty!
Risqué Rock Carvings
When we think of rock paintings or carvings, the first thing to spring to mind may be a reindeer or a hunting scene, but in the 1980s a series of cave drawings thought to date back over 4000 years were discovered in north west China and they appear to depict a prehistoric transsexual orgy.
The Kangjiashimenji petroglyphs, from the Xinjiang province, show a number of scenes from what has been described as a fertility ritual, with curvaceous women wearing headdresses, men with erect penises and, interestingly, there also appears to be a number of transgender figures too, depicted with features of both men and women.
Many of the scenes show the figures about to have sex, with some figures laying on their backs; two clearly exposing the vulva of the woman involved. The final scene shows only men, seemingly after the ritual has taken place, looking, quite frankly, rather pleased with themselves, celebrating. Perhaps romance always was dead…
Fast forwarding to around 3000 years ago and we arrive at the Turin Erotic Papyrus. This ancient scroll painting is said to show one, bald, short, tubby man and his numerous ‘encounters’ with ladies. This piece of erotic archaeology depicts several different sexual positions over the 8.5 foot length of scroll. Two thirds of which are taken up by his erotic exploits.
The Raunchy Romans
The Romans loved a good penis and if it could fly, had legs or wore clothes, they loved it all the more! You will often find a phallic symbol on Roman jewellery, such as rings and brooches, bells and oil lamps, but my favourite item has to be the flying penis wind chime.
Luckily for us, one is held at the British Museum, made of Bronze, with dangling charms which would have tinkled (excuse the pun) in the wind to ward off evil spirits. The middle charm portrays an erect penis, symbolising health and good fortune, with wings, a tail and legs- giving a whole new meaning to the term ‘doggy style’.
Passionate Pompeii and Horny Herculaneum
Pompeii & Herculaneum are most famous for being devastated but uniquely preserved when covered by 20 feet of volcanic lava and ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79. When rediscovered in the 18th and 19th centuries, it was found that the nature of the towns’ destruction had led to almost complete preservation, including ‘plaster cast’ fossil-like remains of the inhabitants, as they met their fate.
It soon became clear that Pompeii was a very sexual town, especially compared to the 18th and 19th century discoverers’ lives. Erotic archaeology was soon discovered, with phallic references throughout, including household items such as lamps, jewellery, paintings and even graffiti referring to ladies of the night, leading to the discovery of a number of brothels. The wall paintings and carvings have been interpreted as adverts for their services, but continue throughout the town, including at the public baths.
Many items throughout both of the towns were deemed too sordid for public display and were whisked away to a ‘Secret Museum’ in Naples, where only ‘mature’ people could have an audience with them. Some were reburied and only rediscovered at a much later date.
This included a wall mural of the god of fertility Priapus, who boasted an extremely over-enlarged erect penis. This was covered in plaster by the discoverers and not discovered again until 1998 when it was revealed by a large rainstorm.
Pompeii set tongues wagging again in 2013 when the British Museum hosted an exhibition of artefacts, including a statue of Pan, the goat god, having sex with a goat. The museum issued a ‘parental guidance’ warning and viewing was restricted to those over 14 years of age.
The Moche culture in northern Peru boast a large amount of ceramic art, dating back to around 1500 years ago. The collections discovered have a number of themes and over 500 artefacts have been discovered to depict sex. However, very few showing vaginal penetration are present with anal sex being frequent, although between heterosexual partners. Presenting 50 shades of clay…
Pilgrim Badges- flying phalli
Pilgrim badges were worn in the medieval period as a souvenir from the Roman Catholic wearers’ travels. They were generally mass-produced, affordable keepsakes made from pewter and date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Thousands have been found- many discovered in rivers or streams as it was seen to be good luck to throw them into water, but many of those which don’t make it into the history books, or even Wikipedia, are those which depict flying phalli, winged willies and even a vagina holding a staff (topped with a penis) wearing a hat.
For these, you really do need to come to your own conclusions on why these were so popular as there is so little written about them. Was it was a symbol of fertility or something more fun such as a satirical joke, a naughty ‘reward’ for confessing sins on pilgrimage or even something as simple as the souvenirs similar to those on sale in establishments near to Amsterdam’s red light district today which, to be honest, aren’t far removed from their 600 year old Pilgrimage cousins!
The “Dick Head” Plate
On display in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is, what looks like at first, a very pretty plate or bowl with the face of a Greek man or woman painted in the centre. Look closer and you see that the entire head is made up of a series of penises, one of which with an earring!
On the back of the plate, dating to the 1530s, instructions suggest how to understand the plate’s meaning “as the jews do”. The depiction on the front, when read backwards, translates to “Every man looks at me as if I were a head of dicks”.
The plate is called the ‘Testa di Cazzi’ and today the phrase ‘Testa di cazzo’ is used in Italy to suggest a man with a weak head, a bad temper who thinks with his willy rather than his head. How poetic!