Sensitive to Art & its Discontents
We all know that size doesn’t matter, but archaeologists are nonetheless aflutter over a massive stone penis unearthed last month amidst excavation of Roman ruins in an Iberian archaeological site called El Higuerón, in southern Spain. At nearly 18 inches long, it may be the largest known specimen within a common genre — proving that scientists do keep score on such matters.
“It was common to put them on the facades of houses, and soldiers carried small phallic amulets as symbols of virility. But this one is unusually large,” Andrés Roldán, director of the dig and of the Historical Museum of Nueva Carteya, which is overseeing the excavation, told El País. “We are currently researching whether one of similar dimensions has been previously found.”
Phallus motifs were a common feature in the Roman Empire, cropping up everywhere from Mesopotamia to Hadrian’s Wall and considered an essential piece of décor — and no kidding, girl, a good piece of décor is hard to find. The relief was carved on one of the ashlars of a large tower-shaped building with six-foot-thick perimeter limestone walls in El Higuerón, which was occupied by Iberians in the fourth century BCE before it was conquered by the Romans around 206 BCE.
Though large bas-relief is the current focus of the excavation, El Higuerón is a multi-layered and deeply complex archaeological endeavor, with the Roman settlement sitting atop that of an ancient Iberian culture that stretches back into prehistory. Roldán suggested that the ruins at the El Higuerón site indicate Roman invaders demolished the Iberian settlement to build over it. 
“They razed the settlement and used the ancient Iberian fortifications as foundations [for the new buildings],” Roldán told El País. “The various Iberian edifices in the area, such as the one in Nueva Carteya, were built on strategic topographical points and suggest a much more complex history than one would expect from these archaeological sites.”
Roldán’s comments seem to echo a common truism, which states that it’s not the length of the history that matters, so much as its breadth.
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Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts….
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Hyperallergic is a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today. Founded in 2009, Hyperallergic is headquartered in Brooklyn, New York.


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