Multiple radiocarbon measurements at the site have provided a date of 29,000 BC. Thus, the artefact sheds new light on the symbolism and sexuality of the Gravettian period. This period is well-known for its female representations, such as the hyper-rotund Venus of Willendorf in Austria, but only rarely have masculine representations of this age been discovered. This too is a hyper-representation; as the scholars are quick to point out: the artefact has an elongated form that does not occur naturally.
The object is certainly (wo)man-made, as indicated by the clear evidence for grinding and polishing. One end of the siltstone phallus has several deeply incised rings, cut using a sharp stone tool.
In the Old Stone Age, figurative or symbolic representations are often combined with functional tools. In this case the phallus from Hohle Fels appears to have been used as a hammerstone, as is indicated by several areas showing use wear from stone knapping. Finds of this kind are entirely unknown in Swabia and are extremely rare in other Ice Age contexts, including the Gravettian, which is best known for its abundant female imagery.
The Phallus from Hohle Fels is now on-show at a special exhibition in the Prehistory Museum in Blaubeuren, entitled: Ice Age Art: Definitely Masculine. The exhibition will run until January 6, 2006.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 13. Click here to subscribe