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‘Enhanced’ phallus carved on Roman millstone uncovered after A14 upgrade work



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Archaeologists are used to turning up interesting finds.

But even they were surprised to uncover an engraving of an ‘enhanced phallus’ that is nearly 2,000 years old while analysing the discoveries from the A14 upgrade project.

A phallus carved into a Roman millstone, found during the A14 upgrade works. Picture: Highways England
A phallus carved into a Roman millstone, found during the A14 upgrade works. Picture: Highways England

A symbol of Roman virility, it was found carved into a millstone and represents an extremely rare find.

Only four such decorated Roman millstones have been discovered from the 20,000 found nationwide.

Steve Sherlock, Highways England’s archaeology lead for the A14, said: “This millstone is important as it adds to the evidence for such images from Roman Britain.

“There were known associations between images of the phallus and milling, such as those found above the bakeries of Pompeii, one inscribed with ‘Hic habitat felicitas’ – ‘You will find happiness here’.

“The phallus was seen as an important image of strength and virility in the Roman world, with it being common practice for legionaries to wear a phallus amulet, which would give them good luck before battle.”

Archaeological work on Highways England’s now-complete £1.5billion A14 upgrade from Cambridge to Huntingdon uncovered more than 300 querns, or hand mills, and millstones.

Dr Ruth Shaffrey with the millstone, only one of four such carvings ever found on these millstones. Picture: Highways England
Dr Ruth Shaffrey with the millstone, only one of four such carvings ever found on these millstones. Picture: Highways England

However, this particular find was only recently pieced together by archaeologists MOLA Headland Infrastructure.

The archaeologists and their partners at Oxford Archaeology discovered two crosses inscribed on the circumference of the quern and a different type of carving on its upper face

Querns were used for grinding corn and typically comprise two circular millstones. The upper stone is rotated or rubbed against the lower bedstone.

In this case, the millstone had been broken during its use and was adapted. This preserved the carving as it was then reversed to be used as a saddle quern, one of the bedstones used in the grinding process, which hid the phallus.

It is more common to find crosses on such stones, although these tend to be found only at military sites.

Preparing for Archaeological open days on the A14 in Huntingdon in summer 2018. Picture: Highways England
Preparing for Archaeological open days on the A14 in Huntingdon in summer 2018. Picture: Highways England

Dr Ruth Shaffrey, from Oxford Archaeology, added: “As one of only four known examples of Romano-British millstones decorated this way, the A14 millstone is a highly significant find. It offers insights into the importance of the mill to the local community and to the protective properties bestowed upon the millstone and its produce (the flour) by the depiction of a phallus on its upper surface.”

The phallus follows in the wake of multiple other interesting finds during the A14 project. Others have included woolly mammoth tusks and woolly rhino skulls, the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Britain - dating back to as early as 400 BC - and only the second gold coin to be found in the country depicting Roman emperor Laelianus, who reigned for about two months in 269 AD before he was killed.

Vehicles using the 750-metre long River Great Ouse viaduct on the new A14. Picture: Highways England
Vehicles using the 750-metre long River Great Ouse viaduct on the new A14. Picture: Highways England

The 21-mile upgraded section of the A14 opened eight months early in May 2020. About 85,000 drivers used the section every day before work started.

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