Archaeological Surprise: Grave Site Full of Phallic Figurines

By Andrew Moseman | September 8, 2008 3:24 pm

phallusArchaeologists excavating a burial site near Nazareth dating back to between 6750 and 8500 B.C. found the area littered with shells, axes, and other artifacts—no surprise there. But something else also caught their attention: a high number of phallic figurines.

It’s not unusual to find reproductive-themed artifacts in grave sites from this period, says study leader Nigel Goring-Morris of the Hebrew University. But this period of history, not so long after the agricultural revolution, typically produced more female figurines, associated with the fertility of the land. Even though most of the 65 people buried in this 10 meters by 20 meters plot were young men, he says, the finding is an odd one.

Goring-Morris speculates that these guys were trying to reclaim their manhood. With societies at the time moving from being hunter-gatherers to farmers, he says, men lost some of the macho feeling: Let’s face it, plowing a field just doesn’t get the testosterone flowing as much as killing a gazelle. There’s no real evidence that these men felt that way, but the possible alternative explanations for carving a bunch of phalluses are perhaps more unsavory.

In any case, farming—and female fertility imagery—won out in the region. But every time a group of men jump in a freezing lake or embark on a disastrous camping trip to reassert their manhood, they can rest assured that they might just be carrying on a millennia-old tradition.

Image: Nigel Goring-Morris

MORE ABOUT: archaeology
  • tresmal

    “Archaeologists excavating a burial site near Nazareth dating back to between 6750 and 8500 B.C.”

    Doesn’t that make them older than the Earth? (snark, snark, snark)

  • Charles M. Barnard

    What “alternative explanations” are “unsavory?”

    Perhaps they were carving dildos…?

  • Chris Wood

    I find it insufferably Puritan that archaeologists consistently ignore one of the most sensible explanations for phallic figures – at least the larger ones – is that they were sex toys. Has anyone ever tested the surfaces of some of these “figurines” to check for bodily fluids?

  • Joan Griffith

    As a matter of fact, such objects were used in “holy” rites in which a barren wife would be ritually inseminated by the god. It makes sense that the object would then be discarded so that worshippers would get their money’s worth.

    By the way, can we relate this at all to the round stones with a hole in Britain (Scotland? Ireland? England? ) that women would crawl thru in order to get pregnant? AND, there is today an African statue made of dark wood which if one only touches it, causes women to get pregnant, or so they claim… the mythology of seeking God’s help to have a child is very old. Oops, I forgot, Nicole Kidman & friends swim in the pool down under where about 6 of them became pregnant, including Nic. So she said.

    I seriously doubt that DNA would remain after all this time.

    Rocks as sex toys? Rocks?? Leave it to a man to think of that.

  • Pingback: Toil and Trouble: Scientists Analyze 17th Century “Witches Brew” | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • hottie


  • Eric

    Comments like “but the possible alternative explanations for carving a bunch of phalluses are perhaps more unsavory.” are the kinds of journalism that put discovermagazine firmly in the “popular” realm and clearly separate it from academic sources. Science is not savory or unsavory, it just is.

    There is a possible social / sexual comment therein. I suspect if there were vaginas, tits and ass it wouldn’t be so “unsavory”. Why is the penis and what people might do with one, or even something shaped like one so “unsavory”?


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