Wooden Phallus Suggests Romans Used Sex Toys, Archaeologists Say

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A 2,000-year-old phallus-shaped wooden object unearthed in 1992 is now believed to be evidence that Romans used sex toys, archaeologists say.

“We shouldn’t be surprised by this. We know from Roman art and Roman literature that they used dildos, that they existed. But we haven’t found any examples archaeologically yet,” Rob Collins, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and a coauthor of the study, told CNN.

“It very well could be a sex object and, if it is, it is the first example from the Roman world,” he added.

Roman-era dildos are not commonly found in archaeology because they were typically made from organic materials that break down over the years, CNN reported.

Initially believed to be a darning tool, the artifact was discovered in northern England in a ditch near Hadrian’s Wall, the site that once marked the northwest border of the Roman Empire, the outlet reported. There, at the Roman Fort of Vindolanda, researchers found the artifact alongside shoes and dress accessories, which archaeologists said is why it was initially misidentified. (RELATED: 14th Century Synagogue Discovered Within Local Spanish Bar)

The artifact measures just over six inches long and is now believed to be an object intended for clitoral stimulation, not penetration, according to the outlet.

“So, the other thing we have to be conscious of is that it would be easy to cast such an object as silly and frivolous and just about sexual gratification, but it could be a tool for perpetuating power imbalance and subjugation,” Collins told CNN.

Because small portable phallus objects were used as talismans or lucky charms, researchers suggested this one could have been slotted into a structure or statue where passers-by would touch it for good fortune, the outlet reported.  The phallus could also have been used as a pestle for grinding materials for cooking or for making cosmetics, ointments or medicines, with its shape adding a symbolic potency to whatever was being prepared.

“The wooden phallus may well be currently unique in its survival from this time, but it is unlikely to have been the only one of its kind used at the site, along the frontier, or indeed in Roman Britain,” Vindolanda Trust curator Barbara Birley said, according to CNN.

If other similar objects are found, it will help researchers better understand and identify the true function of the artifact, Collins told the outlet.