Dylan Herbert discovered a stone with a phallus drawing and an insult on it, which is intended to delight tourists for many years at Vindolanda.
They’re scribbled on school tables, lavatory walls, and underpasses all over the United Kingdom.
However, after a volunteer discovered graffiti at Vindolanda portraying an explicitly carved phallus, it appears that the tradition of drawing the male appendage as graffiti dates back far further than any of us would have imagined. Over the years, the popular museum has unearthed several historically noteworthy artifacts, like the world’s oldest boxing gloves and the world’s largest collection of leather shoes, which numbers over 7,000 pairs.
A Roman Altar from the 3rd century AD was discovered earlier this year, and it is assumed to be from the same time period as the most recent find. This one, though, is a lot more obnoxious!
The graffiti was not simply a sketch, but the 40 x 15cm stone was also inscribed with SECVNDINVS CACOR, making it a particularly personal attack. Drs Alexander Meyer, Alex Mullen, and Roger Tomlin, all Roman epigraphy experts, recognized it as a jumbled form of “Secundinus cactor,” or “Secudinus, the sh**ter.”
Retired biochemist Dylan Herbert was delighted to make the discovery on May 19. He said: “I’d been removing a lot of rubble all week and to be honest this stone had been getting in my way, I was glad when I was told I could take it out of the trench.
“It looked from the back like all the others, a very ordinary stone, but when I turned it over, I was startled to see some clear letters. Only after we removed the mud did I realise the full extent of what I’d uncovered, and I was absolutely delighted.”
Dr Andrew Birley, director of excavations and CEO of the Vindolanda Trust said: “The recovery of an inscription, a direct message from the past, is always a great event on a Roman excavation, but this one really raised our eyebrows when we deciphered the message on the stone. It’s author clearly had a big problem with Secundinus and was confident enough to announce their thoughts publicly on a stone.
“I have no doubt that Secundinus would have been less than amused to see this when he was wandering around the site over 1,700 years ago.”
Though the Roman phallus is commonly seen as a good luck charm or a sign of fertility, the author has stolen this connotation and twisted it to suit their own purposes. Each letter has been meticulously carved, which would have taken a long time, leaving no doubt about the intensity of emotion possessed.
Described as a “great” social commentary, it is expected to continue to entertain visitors for years to come. According to the Vindolanda team, engraving such a message was one of the best ways to get a lot of people to see the point centuries before the advent of printed newspapers and social media.
Archaeological excavations have been carried out in Vindolanda for nearly 100 years, during which more carvings of stalks were unearthed on the walls of Hadrian than any other stalk. With this addition, the number will be 13. This is seen as unfortunate for some, but archaeologists at Vindolanda hope that this will be a good sign for the rest of the excavation season, which is a major year for the walls.