Post-excavation analysis of the many finds discovered on Highways England’s A14 Cambridge-to-Huntingdon improvement scheme (see CA 339) has revealed a rare Roman millstone carved with a prominent phallus. It is the latest development in a project that has revealed diverse discoveries, from woolly mammoth tusks to the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Britain (see CA 350).
More than 300 querns and millstones were recovered during the works, but archaeologists from MOLA Headland Infrastructure and Oxford Archaeology, who have been working on the cleaning and conservation of these artefacts, report that this example is very unusual. It is one of only four known Romano-British millstones decorated in this way, from a total of approximately 20,000 found across the entirety of Britain. Two crosses had also been inscribed on the sides of the millstone – although this type of decoration is much more common and appears to be particularly associated with military sites.
Analysis of the millstone suggests that it was broken some time during its use, reversed, and then readapted as a saddle quern – one of the bedstones used in the grinding process. During this recycling process, the phallus appears to have been hidden, perhaps helping to preserve it.
Dr 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 for battle.’
Dr Ruth Shaffrey from Oxford Archaeology, added: ‘[This find] offers insights into the importance of the mill to the local community and to the protective properties bestowed on the millstone and its produce (the flour) by the depiction of a phallus on its upper surface.’