A 42,000-Year-Old Pendant Discovered in Mongolia Could Be the Earliest Phallic Art Ever Found by Archaeologists

It may predate the oldest known representations of human sex organs by 2,000 years.

Courtesy Solange Rigaud.

A Paleolithic-era artifact discovered in Mongolia in 2016 may be the earliest instance of phallic art yet to be discovered. The pendant was likely tied with a string around the wearer’s neck. It was found at the archaeological site known as Tolbor, in the Northern Khangai Mountains, which dates back about 42,000 years.

The artifact measures not quite two inches long, and is made from graphite. Since that material wasn’t widely available in the area, the archaeologists who found it suggest it may have come from far afield. The pendant is quite worn, suggesting it may have been passed down among generations. 

“Three‐dimensional phallic pendants are unknown in the Paleolithic record, and this discovery predates the earliest known sexed anthropomorphic representation,” say the authors of a paper on the find published in Nature Scientific Reports this month.   

“Our argument is that when you want to represent something abstractly, you will choose very specific features that really characterize what you want to represent,” University of Bordeaux archaeologist Solange Rigaud, the paper’s lead author, told Science magazine. Viewed through this lens, the clearest pieces of evidence for the artifact representing a penis are the distinction between the glans and the shaft and the representation of the opening of the urethra. 

Not all experts are convinced. Boston University archaeologist Curtis Runnels told Science he “would need to be convinced” that this “small and rather shapeless object” was intended to sumbolize a penis. 

But University of Bordeaux anthropologist Francesco D’Errico, who was not involved with the research, is supportive of the authors’ interpretation, telling Science, “I think the interpretation holds.”

Other famous representations of human sex organs, showing vulva, are found in the cave art at Grotte Chauvet in France, but those only date back around 32,000 years, according to Science magazine. The Venus of Hohe Fels, meanwhile, depicts the female figurine’s genitalia and dates back some 40,000 years. So the newly discovered pendant may be the oldest such art by two millennia. 

More Trending Stories:  

The Brooklyn Museum’s Much-Criticized ‘It’s Pablo-matic’ Show Is Actually Weirdly at War With Itself Over Hannah Gadsby’s Art History 

This Famed Dollhouse Is Hung With Tiny Original Artworks, Including a Miniature Duchamp. Here Are Three Things to Know About the One-of-a-Kind Treasure 

A Writer Is Calling Out the British Museum for Using Her Translations of Chinese Poetry in an Exhibition Without Permission 

Beeple Collector Metakovan Is Suing Twobadour, Claiming His Ex-Partner Is Falsely Taking Credit for Buying the $69 Million NFT 

The Site of Caesar’s Assassination in Rome, Until Recently Only Visited by a Colony of Stray Cats, Is Now Open to Human Tourists Too 

Anna Delvey’s New Hustle Is a Podcast of Frothy Conversations With Artists, Writers, and Fellow Fraudsters—and It Could Be Illegal 

Rubens Painting Lost For 300 Years and Misidentified When Last Sold at Auction Will Star At Upcoming Sotheby’s Sale in London 


Follow Artnet News on Facebook:


Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.

You are currently logged into this Artnet News Pro account on another device. Please log off from any other devices, and then reload this page continue. To find out if you are eligible for an Artnet News Pro group subscription, please contact [email protected]. Standard subscriptions can be purchased on the subscription page.

Log In