A bas relief of a hefty phallus more than a foot and a half long has been discovered on the wall of a Roman-era structure at the archaeological site of El Higuerón in Nueva Carteya, a town 30 miles southeast of Córdoba, Spain. The symbol, which Romans believed warded off the evil eye, was carved into the front of a massive limestone cornerstone at the base of a tower-like structure. Its impressive endowment makes it one of the largest phalluses known from the Roman world — certainly the largest one measured and documented — which is saying a lot because the Roman world was bristling with phalluses.
Excavations were first carried out at El Higuerón between 1966 and 1968, revealing a walled Iberian town dating to the 5th century B.C. The Iberian settlement was destroyed by the Romans when they defeated Carthage and conquered the area at the conclusion of the Second Punic War in 206 B.C. They built a tall tower-like structure on top of the ruins.
The latest excavation began this month. The team’s goal is to clean the perimeter wall, which is the oldest remnant of the Iberian city, and to excavate the large tower building.
The team of archaeologists refer to the structure at El Higuerón as a “monumental Roman building” with perimeter walls six feet thick (1.8 meters) made of large limestone blocks. Underground storerooms for agricultural products have been discovered, along with various construction materials like fragments of stucco, Roman concrete (opus caementicium), black and white blocks, tiles and storage containers with lids. This year, the archaeologists are focused on excavating an access point through one of the facades to the tower, in addition to cleaning the perimeter wall, “which is one of the more massive features of the site,” according to [Director of the Historical Museum of Nueva Carteya Andrés] Roldán.
The building was abandoned by the Romans during the first century Flavian dynasty, and later renovated by the Moors during their Iberian reign. The Moors eliminated parts of the structure that that were not useful, such as the underground storerooms, and reinforced weak areas like the access door. When the Christians drove out the Moors in the 13th century, the building was abandoned and forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1960s.
In less than a month of excavations, archaeologists cleared the ancient wall thoroughly enough to reach the Iberian-era foundations. They also unearthed a lime floor inside the tower, a cobblestone floor just outside the tower and evidence of repeated alterations to the access point of the building from the original Roman door to the medieval one that is still extant today.
The site has been known since its rediscovery, but a smattering of walls amidst hills of olive trees did not draw much attention, positive or negative. Now that there’s a giant phallus in the picture, the curious, careless and greedy have come calling. Now the local police and Guarda Civil have had to secure the site, especially at night, to keep the archaeological remains safe.
The municipality of Nueva Carteya has acquired the land to ensure the long-term protection of the structure and its contexts. The ultimate aim is to create an open-air archaeological park accompanied by an on-site museum to display the artifacts recovered there.