Archaeologists discover 'Roman sex toy'

Archaeologists have discovered a unique artefact at the site of the fort of Vindolanda in Northumberland - which they believe is a Roman sex toy.

The wooden object was initially thought to be a darning tool since it had been found alongside dozens of shoes and dress accessories that were discarded in the 2nd-century fort ditch.

However, a new analysis by experts at Newcastle University and University College Dublin has shown it to be the first known example of a disembodied phallus made of wood recovered anywhere in the Roman world.

Phalli were widespread across the Empire and were commonly believed to be a way to protect against bad luck. They were often depicted in painted frescoes and mosaics or formed part of the decoration of other objects such as being embellished onto a knife handle or incised into pottery.

The research team think the object may have been more than a good luck charm as both ends of the phallus were noticeably smooth, indicating repeated contact over time.

Dr Rob Collins, Senior Lecturer, Archaeology, Newcastle University, explains: "The size of the phallus and the fact that it was carved from wood raises a number of questions to its use in antiquity. We cannot be certain of its intended use, in contrast to most other phallic objects that make symbolic use of that shape for a clear function, like a good luck charm. We know that the ancient Romans and Greeks used sexual implements - this object from Vindolanda could be an example of one."

Barbara Birley, Curator at the Vindolanda Trust, added: "This rediscovery shows the real legacy value of having such an incredible collection of material from one site and being able to reassess that material. The wooden phallus may well be currently unique in its survival from this time, but it is unlikely to have been the only one of its kind used at the site, along the frontier, or indeed in Roman Britain."