Chances are good you read at least one of the countless media reports last month of a possible 2,000-year-old “dildo” found near the remains of a Roman subsidiary fort in the UK called Vindolanda. Well, it’s either a dildo; a pestle used to grind culinary, cosmetic or medical ingredients; or something meant to be inserted into a statue and rubbed for good luck (common Roman practice). This is what the authors February newspaper in antiquity nevertheless concluded. But now we have another possible explanation consider: The phallus-shaped artifact could be a spindle used to spin yarn.
As we reported earlier, Vindolanda the site is located south of the defensive fortification known as hadrian wall. An antiquarian named William Camden recorded the existence of the ruins in a 1586 treatise. Over the next 200 years, many people visited the site, discovering a military bath in 1702 and an altar in 1715. The Reverend Anthony Hadley began excavations at the site in 1814, but died before he could record what he found for posterity. Another altar found in 1914 confirmed that the fort was called Vindolanda.
Serious archaeological excavations at this site began in the 1930s under the direction of Eric Birley, whose sons and grandson continued the business after his death, up to the present day. The lack of oxygen in the sediments (some of which go as deep as 6 meters or 19 feet into the ground) means that the recovered artifacts are surprisingly well preserved. These include wooden writing tablets and more than 100 boxwood combs, which would have decayed long ago in more oxygen-rich conditions.
The site is best known for the so-called Vindolanda tablets, among the oldest surviving handwritten documents in Britain. Discovered in 1973, these are postcard-sized thin wooden leaves with text written in carbon ink. Most of the documents are official military communications and personal messages from the soldiers of the garrison to their families, revealing many details of life in the fort. By far the most famous is Tablet 291, written around 100 AD. the wife of a general named Claudia Severa, who was in charge of a nearby fort. It was addressed to Sulpicia Lepidina, inviting her to a birthday party, and is one of the earliest known examples of a woman writing in Latin.
Phalluses were everywhere in ancient Rome because they were believed to ward off evil. There are 13 phallic images at the Vindolanda site alone, more than at any other excavation site along Hadrian’s Wall.
Last year, for example, archaeologists excavating at Vindolanda unearthed a small stone that was unmistakably carved with an image of a penis—essentially an ancient Roman image of d**k—along with a crudely offensive message. Experts in Roman epigraphy recognized the inscription as a distorted version Secundine cockatorwhich translates to “Secundinus, shit”. The depiction of the penis simply added insult to injury—a clever subversion of the traditional interpretation of the phallus as a positive symbol of fertility.