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Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert

Wooden carvings of male genitals found in the hands of female mummies discovered in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region were part of an ancient ritual, not sex toys, according to a new study by Chinese scientists.

Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert
Kharkarin Rock near the Erdene Zuu Monastery in Mongolia. Archaeologists believe
 that large phallus-shaped sculptures like this played an important role in ancient rituals 
[Credit: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences]
The phallic carvings measured as small as 4 centimetres in length and were discovered in graves at the Xiaohe Tomb complex in Lop Nur, Xinjiang in the grip of 4,000-year old female mummies.

They were smaller than expected and mostly painted red to highlight their sacred status - hinting at their use in certain religious rituals.

They were found by a research team led by Yang Yimin, a professor of archaeological science at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

Phallicism, also known as male organ worship, was a common ritual in many ancient cultures, with archaeologists often encountering relics representing sexual organs in tombs and other excavation sites.

Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert
The content of a typical tomb for a woman at Xiaohe cemetery: (a) shows a
 front view of a female mummy with her funerary objects, including a leather
 bag on the right side of her waist (purple box), wooden replica genitalia on the
 left (yellow box) and a wooden comb under her buttocks; (b) shows red lines 
painted on the forehead of a mummy; (c) leather bag; (d) wooden replica genitalia 
[Credit: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences]
In this case, the sexualised relics and sculptures could be separated into two categories: phalluses that played a role in tribal or social rituals, and olisboi - a classical word for dildos - that served an erotic function. In the majority of cases, their category is decided primarily by their size.

The tomb complex ranks as one of the largest and oldest burial sites in the world for mummies. The bronze-age burial site dates back to 1980BC, houses around 330 tombs, and contains more than 30 well-preserved mummies.

It was officially discovered by Swedish explorer Folke Bergman in the early 1930s with the aid of a local hunter who had stumbled upon the site some two decades earlier. The site was then obscured for decades by desert storms that shifted the sands of the surrounding desert.

In 2003, government-sponsored archaeologists in Xinjiang rediscovered it. They found that half of the tombs had been looted and the others undisturbed, with shrivelled corpses of both men and women well-preserved in boat-shaped coffins wrapped in cattle hides.

Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert
The Xiaohe (“small river”) Tomb complex was discovered in Lop Nur, a dried-up
 salt lake and township of the same name in Northwest China’s Xinjiang province.
 The site is located between two deserts - the Taklamakan and Kumtag 
[Credit: SCMP]
The archaeologists were shocked to find replica wooden genitalia in the left hand of almost every female at the tomb complex, suggesting an extreme form of phallic worship in this primitive Chinese society.

The females also carried leather bags attached to the right side of their waists, which included cosmetic “sticks” made from bovine hearts, according to studies conducted by Yang’s team.

Chemical analysis of the paint on the sticks showed them to be hematite powders - hematite is a blood red-coloured iron ore - that matched other daubings on the faces, personal items and even phallic artefacts of the mummies.

“So using cattle hearts as tools to paint red marks on the human face, as well as on objects such as vertical wooden pillars and wooden phalluses … was a sacred and significant religious form of behaviour for the Xiaohe people,” the team wrote in the paper.

Wooden phalluses found at lost burial site in Xinjiang desert
Xiaohe cemetery ranks as one of the largest and oldest burial sites for mummies in the
 world. It dates back to 1980BC and houses over 300 tombs. The site was discovered 
by European explorers in the Xinjiang desert in 1930s but its location was later
 obscured and lost as the landscape shifted due to desert storms. Government
sponsored archaeologists rediscovered it just over a decade ago
 [Credit: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences]
“The colour red was usually considered a symbol of worship,” they wrote.

“Using [the] heart as a painting tool may indicate that ‘blood worship’ was a signature of this socio-religious culture.”

Huang Shouyu, a historian based in Changsha, in central China’s Hunan province, agreed that the replica wooden genitals at the tomb complex were likely used for religious purposes.

But Huang, who has authored several books on sexual worship in ancient Chinese cultures, said that as the relics were uncommonly small for this purpose, they could have served another role - as pleasure-giving sex toys.

“They may have served as both sacred items and sex toys,” he said.

“It probably would have made little difference to our ancestors.”

Author: Stephen Chen | Source: South China Morning Post [February 04, 2016]

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