|18 July 2014
Ancient erotic graffiti found on Aegean island
Four years ago Dr Andreas Vlachopoulos, a specialist in prehistoric archaeology, began fieldwork on the Aegean island of Astypalaia (Greece). On that remote island he found a series of inscriptions and large phalluses carved into a rocky peninsula at Vathy. The inscriptions, both dating to the fifth and sixth centuries BCE, were 'so monumental in scale' - and so tantalisingly clear - he was left in no doubt of the motivation behind the artworks.
"They were what I would call triumphant inscriptions," said the Princeton-trained professor who found them while introducing students to the ancient island world of the Aegean. "They claimed their own space in large letters that not only expressed sexual desire but talked about the act of sex itself," he said. "And that is very, very rare."
Chiselled into the outcrops of dolomite limestone that dot the cape, the inscriptions have provided invaluable insight into the private lives of those who inhabited archaic Greece. "We know that in ancient Greece sexual desire between men was not a taboo," added Dr Vlachopoulos. "But this graffiti is not just among the earliest ever discovered. It clearly says that these two men were making love over a long period of time, emphasising the sexual act in a way that is highly unusual in erotic artwork. "
Found at the highest point of the promontory overlooking the Bay of Vathy on the island's north-western tip, the inscription has led the archaeologist to believe that soldiers may once have been garrisoned there. Two penises engraved into limestone beneath the name of Dion, and dating to the fifth century BCE, were also discovered at lower heights of the cape.
"Whoever wrote the erotic inscription was very well trained in writing," said Angelos Matthaiou, for more than 25 years the general secretary at the Greek Epigraphic Society. "The letters have been very skillfully inscribed on the face of the rock, evidence that it was not just philosophers, scholars and historians who were trained in the art of writing but ordinary people living on islands too."
Other rock art found at the site include carvings depicting oared ships, daggers and spirals - all still discernible despite exposure to the erosive effects of wind and sea. As the best-known motif of early Cycladic art representing the waves of the sea, spirals symbolised perpetual motion as the driving force in the life and thought of island communities. "We know that Greek islands were inhabited by the third millienium BCE, but what we have found is evidence that, even then, people were using a coded language of symbols and imagery that was quite sophisticated," said Dr Vlachopoulos.
Edited from The Guardian (6 July 2014)
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