Rare Roman millstone with eye-opening image found at Godmanchester

Dr Ruth Shaffrey from Oxford Archaeology with the millstone.

Dr Ruth Shaffrey from Oxford Archaeology with the millstone that was found near the A14 at Godmanchester. - Credit: HIGHWAYS ENGLAND

Cheeky millers at Godmanchester believed their flour would be more potent after they carved what archaeologists described as an “enhanced phallus” on their millstone nearly 2,000 years ago.

This millstone found on the A14 at Godmanchester has a phallus carved into it.

This millstone found on the A14 at Godmanchester has a phallus carved into it. - Credit: HIGHWAYS ENGLAND

The extremely rare millstone was one of hundreds of flour-making devices unearthed during construction of the £1.5 billion upgrade of the A14 between Huntingdon and Cambridge.

Archaeologists believe that people living in Roman times associated the phallus with strength and virility and similar images were worn for good luck when men went into battle.

The decorated millstone also shows that the millers were early exponents of recycling because the stone had been broken at some stage and was adapted into a different form of flour-maker, helping to preserve the genital carving.

Archaeologists from MOLA Headland Infrastructure have only just pieced together the find, discovered in a post-hole at a Roman settlement at Godmanchester which had developed into a high-status villa by the 3-4th Century AD. It and was one of more than 300 hand mills, known as querns, and millstones discovered during work on one of Britain’s biggest road schemes.

The archaeologists and their partners, Oxford Archaeology, discovered two crosses inscribed on the circumference of the quern, and a different type of carving on its upper face. After the millstone had been broken, it was then adapted, which preserved the carvings as it was then reversed to be used as a saddle quern, one of the bedstones used in the grinding process, hiding the genital carving.

Decorated querns and millstones of any date are extremely rare, with only four such Roman millstones discovered from around a total of 20,000 nationwide. While crosses on such stones are more prevalent, these tend to be found only at military sites.

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Steve Sherlock, Highways England’s archaeology lead for the A14, said: “This millstone is important as it adds to the evidence for such images from Roman Britain.

“There were known associations between images of the phallus and milling, such as those found above the bakeries of Pompeii, one inscribed with ‘Hic habitat felicitas’ or ‘You will find happiness here’.”

He said: “The phallus was seen as an important image of strength and virility in the Roman world, with it being common practice for legionaries to wear a phallus amulet, which would give them good luck before battle.”

Dr Ruth Shaffrey, from Oxford Archaeology, added: “As one of only four known examples of Romano-British millstones decorated this way, the A14 millstone is a highly significant find.

“It offers insights into the importance of the mill to the local community and to the protective properties bestowed upon the millstone and its produce, the flour, by the depiction of a phallus on its upper surface.”

Highways England’s archaeological work on the A14 upgrade has revealed thousands of artefacts, including woolly mammoth tusks and woolly rhino skulls, the earliest evidence of beer brewing in Britain dating back to as early as 400 BC, and only the second gold coin to be found in the country depicting Roman emperor Laelianus, who reigned for about two months in 269 AD before he was killed.

The improved 21-mile section of the A14 is a vital link which connects the East Coast and the Midlands, opening eight months early in May 2020, just before the initial easing of the first lockdown, and is expected to bring nearly £2.5 billion of benefits to the UK economy, says Highways England.

Before the work started around 85,000 drivers were using the section of road each day, including a high level of lorries, and there were regular hold-ups. Work is continuing on loose ends and new links in the Huntingdon area.

Information about the scheme, including advance notification of road closures, is available from www.highwaysengland.co.uk/A14C2H, Twitter @A428Cat and Facebook www.facebook.com/A428BlackCat where developments on the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet improvements can also be found.