Phallic Decoration in Paleolithic Art: Genital Scarification, Piercing and Tattoos
“Purpose: The primitive anthropological meaning of genital ornamentation is not clearly defined and the origin of penile intervention for decorative purposes is lost in time. Corporeal decoration was practiced in the Upper Paleolithic period. We discuss the existing evidence on the practice of phallic piercing, scarring and tattooing in prehistory. Materials and Methods: We studied the archaeological and artistic evidence regarding explicit genital male representations in portable art made in Europe approximately 38,000 to 11,000 years ago with special emphasis on decorations suggesting genital ornamentation.Results: Archaeological evidence that has survived to our day includes 42 phallic pieces, of which 30 (71.4%) show intentional marks to a different extent with a probable decorative purpose. Of these ornamental elements 18 (60%) were recovered from the upper Magdalenian period (11,000 to 12,700 years ago) in France and Spain, and 23 (76.7%) belong to the category of perforated batons. Decorations show lines (70% of objects), plaques (26.7%), dots/holes (23.3%) or even human/animal forms (13.3%). These designs most probably represent skin scarification, cutting, piercing and tattooing. Notably there are some technical similarities between the motifs represented and some designs present in symbolic cave wall art. This evidence may show the anthropological origin of current male genital piercing and tattooing. Conclusions: European Paleolithic art shows decoration explicitly represented in a high proportion of portable art objects with a phallic form that have survived to our day. Decorative rituals of male genital tattooing, piercing and scarification may have been practiced during Paleolithic times.”
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