Neolithic Phallus from Maumbury Rings Henge, found and photographed by Harold St George Gray, 1912, Historic England Archives.

Sculptures from the Secret Museum: The Visual Anthropology of Phallic Worship

Henry Moore Institute

Objects thought to represent the erect penis have been found around the world, from many different times and places, including in the deep time of prehistory. They are known as phalli, and have been related to a symbolic category – the phallus.

Over the last four hundred years antiquarians and archaeologists constructed concepts of the phallus that were to become central to ideas of masculinity, mentality and material culture in modern times. The phallus disseminated theories of ancient society and sex across wider fields including comparative religion, psychoanalysis, medical science, sexology and sexual politics.

In this lecture, Helen Wickstead drew on research in archives of archaeological excavations, scholarly societies and museums. She focused on a selection of prehistoric objects (and modern forgeries), showing how they have been interpreted and reinterpreted as part of the historical development of sexual identities and symbolic categories in modern times.

Helen’s research reveals the centrality of phallic theories to nineteenth century studies of Mankind, probing the history of men-only anthropological societies, and the part that phallic knowledge and pornography played in engendering scholarly authority. Uncovering the nineteenth century obsession with Phallic Worship, the talk explored its connection to ideas of megalithic architecture, primitive sexuality, religion, and racial science.

Concluding with an examination of recent discoveries of prehistoric phalli, Wickstead asked how prehistory contributes to discourses surrounding sex and sexuality in archaeologies increasingly mediated by digital technologies.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

18:00 - 20:00

Henry Moore Institute
The Headrow

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