Friday Weird Science: Piercing the Paleolithic Penis

Oct 28 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Yup. Really piercing.

I got today's Friday Weird Science via Ivan Oransky. I don't know WHERE he finds this stuff, but find it he does!

When we think of Paleolithic humans, we often think of things like cave drawings, spearheads and artifacts. We think of stone tools and people hunting mammoths with spears.

But it turns out, we may want to actually think of penis piercing. Just because.

Angulo et al. "Phallic Decoration in Paleolithic Art: Genital Scarification, Piercing and Tattoos" The Journal of Urology, 2011.

There are many pieces of art that we have discovered from Paleolithic periods, but relatively few actually depict humans. Those that do, though...well a lot of those dudes seem to have erections. About a third, actually. Not only that, a lot of objects have been found from this period that are...rather phallicly shaped. Ok, they look a LOT like penises. Look!

This has apparently caused many scientists to hypothesize an early society in which we worshipped the penis (can't you tell how much we've changed?). I don't know. I mean, sure sex organs are fascinating (look at my blog! I mean, really), but's just easier to draw an erection on a cave wall? The dangly bits have to be difficult with a large ill shaped chisel. Not only that, many normal objects are already kind of long...and cylindrical...hey phallic imagery is ubiquitous. Might as well make it look right!

Anyway, the authors of this study wanted to see if all of these penis shapes might indicate that something was going on with the real penises of the paleolithic. Unfortunately, mummified penises from this era are hard to come by. We're stuck with the art.

They viewed descriptions of penis-like objects and, when possible, checked out the objects themselves. In particular, they looked at the MARKS on the penis shaped objects. What they found were a lot of geometric designs, similar to those seen in caves from the same time period.
(Now now, those aren't penises, they've cave walls! Yeesh, get your mind out of the gutter! :))

They saw that the penis shaped objects (the 42 they picked were the most clearly penis-shaped, having an obvious glans on them) had genometric dot designs around the head and base. 70% of the penis shaped objects had line designs, and 23% had piercings (they call them "pierced batons" that's what the kids call it nowadays...).

Now obviously the marks (and maybe the objects themselves, what, you DON'T have a decorative penis on your mantle?) have artistic value. But the authors think that this may have represented a culture of tattooing and piercing of the penis among paleolithic cultures. It's pretty well known that body tattooing was common, so why not the penis? And the authors think that the large number of penis objects that were decorated indicate that this must have been done in real life as well.

I personally think we need a real tattooed penis to be sure (imagine finding THAT frozen in a glacier!!). The tattooing seems like a plausible hypothesis, used maybe as tribal markings (you can take out your earrings, but a tattooed penis is forever), and the authors hypothesize that VERY early medicine may have advanced so far as to allow for penis piercings as well. Though I gotta wonder about the perforations in the BASE of the penis, which...dude I don't know if that would be careful enough to prevent some SEVERE erectile dysfunction. I have to imagine the penis images pierced there had some artistic license. And it may well have happened, tattooing and scarification similar to those seen on the penis art is still known among some cultures. Now THAT is a rite of passage.

But it makes me wonder. WHY did this fall out of practice? When and why did this become almost taboo in most societies? And how come none of us use obviously penis shaped objects as "valuable coin, spiritual element, drumstick, dildo, arrow point straighter, tent holder, cord maker or harpoon thrower" anymore (ok, the dildo's still in use, but where is my penis shaped credit card??)?

And the final thing that made this paper for me is the final commentary from Ivan:

I understand that the paper was originally submitted to Prick, a “tattoo, piercing, and lifestyle magazine,” but rejected because the authors didn’t provide enough pictures.

Next time, scientists, more pictures. 🙂

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