Phallic pendant dating back 42,000 years may be the oldest known penis carving

The pendant was discovered at a Paleolithic site in Mongolia in 2016.
Sejal Sharma
The phallic pendant
The phallic pendant

Rigaud et al 

Figurative art dating back to 37,000 years has been documented in Europe and 30,000 years ago in Africa, although examples exist in Southeast Asia between some 50,000–40,000 years ago.

One of the oldest known carvings of human genitalia is the cave art at France’s Grotte Chauvet, which depicts vulvas and dates back 32,000 years.

Scientists now say that a phallic-shaped pendant dating back 42,000 years may be the oldest known depiction of human privates. The pendant was discovered at a Paleolithic site in Mongolia in 2016.

When one looks at the stone, they would think that the pendant doesn’t look like a penis at all. But the researchers say that features like a groove at the mid-section resembling the glans penis and a short deep groove at one extremity which indicates the urethra, are telltale signs that were carved to portray a penis.

Predates the earliest known sexed anthropomorphic representation

The researchers noted that similar features were observed on a limestone pebble found in the Early Aurignacian at Les Cottés in France and a long pebble with a circular groove at Hohle Fels Cave in Germany.

The pendant, T21, “provides new evidence of symbolic production and human self-representation previously unknown in the early phases of the Upper Paleolithic. The pendant and its cultural context are stratigraphically, chronologically and technologically intermediate between the Initial Upper Paleolithic and the classic Early Upper Paleolithic,” explained the researchers in their study.

The position of the pendant in the layers of rocks, radiometric ages, and stone tool assemblage all support the thesis that the object belonged to the Early Upper Paleolithic (EUP).

The pendant presented here suggests that 3D images of the human body and symbolized sexed attributes were produced on portable objects during early Homo sapiens dispersals in Eurasia.

The pendant is 43.4 mm long, 21.4 mm wide, and 13.9 mm thick, with a plano-convex cross-section, a flat side, and a convex side.

“The application of detailed spectroscopic, microscopic and rugosimetric analyses to the pendant allowed us to document in detail the origin, manufacture and use of the artifact. What led to such personal ornamentation diversification in the region is unclear,” said the researchers.

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Study abstract:

Figurative depictions in art first occur ca. 50,000 years ago in Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Considered by most as an advanced form of symbolic behavior, they are restricted to our species. Here, we report a piece of ornament interpreted as a phallus-like representation. It was found in a 42,000 ca.-year-old Upper Paleolithic archaeological layer at the open-air archaeological site of Tolbor-21, in Mongolia. Mineralogical, microscopic, and rugosimetric analyses points toward the allochthonous origin of the pendant and a complex functional history. Three-dimensional phallic pendants are unknown in the Paleolithic record, and this discovery predates the earliest known sexed anthropomorphic representation. It attests that hunter-gatherer communities used sex anatomical attributes as symbols at a very early stage of their dispersal in the region. The pendant was produced during a period that overlaps with age estimates for early introgression events between Homo sapiens and Denisovans, and in a region where such encounters are plausible.

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