Hinged phallus of 2,000-year-old fertility figurine was ‘clearly intended to dangle’

Hinged phallus of 2,000-year-old fertility figurine was ‘clearly intended to dangle’

A metal detectorist in England recently hit on something surprising: a small bronze figurine holding a large hinged phallus. The unique find goes up for auction this week.

Paul Shepheard discovered the object at a 2022 metal detecting event in Haconby, a tiny village about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of London, while searching a field with his wife. Initially, given the location, Shepheard assumed the unusual find was just a steel pin for a cart wheel from old farming equipment. Once he saw the face of the 2.2-inch-tall (5.5 centimeters) figurine, he realized it was something very different.

Nigel Mills (opens in new tab), a coin and artifact specialist at Noonans Auctions, said in a statement that the figurine is likely Celtic, dates to the 1st century A.D. and may be “a representation of a fertility god, probably based on the Roman god Mercury, as he is holding a purse in his left hand.” The artifact also has a loop on the back of the head, indicating that the object “may have served as a locking mechanism as a buckle to hold a belt and scabbard for a sword,” with the phallus having the power of warding off evil spirits, Mills added.

The loop on the back suggests that it may have been worn as a phallic pendant on a necklace. (Image credit: Noonans)

However, John Pearce (opens in new tab), a senior lecturer in archaeology at King’s College London in the U.K., who was not involved in the find, told Live Science in an email that the object was “clearly intended to dangle.” He disagreed with the idea that it was a buckle, saying, “my feeling is that this is yet another variant on the phallic pendant form, to be worn around the neck.” The fact that the phallus is large and hinged may have provided “potential amusement and surprise,” which increased the object’s “function of fending off the evil eye and invidia [envy] by provoking laughter.” 

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