Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Medieval Pottery


Reconstructed medieval jugs on display at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Knight Jug


Detail of 13th century wine jug, decorated with figures of armoured knights and monkey figures. Made at Ham Green, Bristol. Recovered during excavations at High St., Dublin. Now in the collection of the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Three Sides Live | Professor Etienne Rynne Lectures | October 1994 | Part III

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Prof. Etienne Rynne at the decorated east window of Annaghdown Cathedral,
 Co. Galway, in 1996 (© Chapple Collection)

In this, the third and final lecture, Prof. Rynne tackles ‘the big three’ of Irish Early Christian metalwork: The Tara Brooch, The Ardagh Chalice, and the Derrynaflan hoard. All of his obituaries noted that he accompanied the Ardagh Chalice to the British Museum when it was disassembled for cleaning and restoration. This gave him remarkable insight into the manufacture of the piece which, unfortunately, he never got around to publishing. While never filling the void, I hope that this very rushed presentation can go some way towards an understanding of its construction. Students of the Prof. will also recognise his oft-repeated (and terribly misogynistic) anecdote about women wearing their conference name badges upside-down. I have to say that, since hearing that story, I have always kept an eye out for its occurrence at conferences. I’ve only observed it a few times, and always by men rather than women. This recording nicely demonstrates the verbal backlash he received (and expected) for uttering it in public!

Again, I’ve included a rough timeline through the lecture, giving the order of the topics he covered and some of his quips and anecdotes.


Video also available: here

0:18 Tara Brooch: ‘it’s on chocolate boxes and it’s on Dancing Girls’ breasts … or it used to be’
0:42 Tara Brooch is different from everything else
1:01 Penannular & pseudo penannular
1:28 tied on with woven silver wire
1:50 illuminated manuscripts
2:02 ‘The Tara Brooch about 700 ... 725’
2:38 not made of gold! ‘There is only one gold brooch in Ireland at this time – the Dalriada Brooch from Lachan, Co. Derry’
3:22 ‘you can get the measurements yourselves quite easily, I can never remember them!’
3:43 Tara one of the earliest known brooches
3:53 ‘it was cast in the cire perdue method, or the lost wax method’
4:44 ‘it took me four lectures ... or five lectures I think for my ordinary students’
4:53 Bettystown 1850
5:42 sent to the Great Exhibition in London in 1862 & returned missing some filigree
6:09 how they held these panels in place
6:18 ‘just a little detail to show you’ … the dog that only the wearer can see
7:42 ‘If you don’t see the reason for this … next time you go to a conference … and I know I’m going to have P------- B----- and others giving out now that I’m being a male chauvinist pig and all the rest … I’m not! … I’m just telling you a fact … women don’t as often go to conferences as men … and often they come along with the husband … just shows they’re not as used to it … and when you go to conferences and things, you’re given your name on a little label and your name could be P------- B-----, or something … and I challenge any of you to go to any conference … and you’ll see … and nine times out of ten it will be women … who will have … because they’re not used to it … or don’t think the same way … you put it on upside down … quite often you’ll see people walking around with their name and it’s as proud as punch, and their name is upside down … because when they read it, they read it upside down’
8:48 [over loud disagreement] ‘I am just stating that [inaudible] [audience member: ‘very brave’] don’t blame me, I have no [] It’s the same idea’
9:24 [problem with slide projector] ‘why is this not working?’
9:45 missing panel & how they’re held in place
11:05 gilded
13:00 amber
13:15 decoration on the back
14:13 Niello
15:55 ‘So you can see – the Tara Brooch is pretty fine’
16:14 lost wax method
16:26 ‘chip carving … or kerbschnitt to be more correct’
17:01 ‘it’s a marvellous piece, but let us move on from the Tara Brooch to the [indistinct] du temps, the greatest piece of work metallurgical, artistical, probably ever done in the world … it’s Benvenuto Cellini or any of them couldn’t have done the Ardagh Chalice’
17:34 found in hoard in 1868
18:03 probably never used
18:19 ‘it’s a marvellous piece … the proportions are beautiful … I think it’s about seven-and-a-half inches high … [utters list of possible dimensions in quick succession] … it doesn’t matter! It’s elegant!’
18:41 the bowl
19:06 how it’s held together
19:28 handles
19:45 raised glass studs
20:31 moulds for casting glass studs found at Lagore crannog (with glass stud still in it)
20:58 how they were held together
22:40 the bowl girdle
22:00 description of the panels
24:11 Audience member: ‘is that lettering down at the bottom?’
ER: ‘Holy Lord! [audience giggling] there’s the bowl … obviously, somebody has seen something! … but the number of people that go in [to the National Museum of Ireland] and look at the Ardagh Chalice and DON’T see! … that’s one thing you learn from archaeology … I keep telling you … [] I tell my students – if they learn nothing else, they learn to see, not just to look!’
24:44 ‘I’ve brought people into the museum and I’ve brought them … borrowed from the museum the big magnifying glass and they still couldn’t bloody well see!’
25:04 inscription on the bowl ‘the names of the twelve apostles … minus Judas … I think I say in the hand-outs that St Paul replaced Judas … most people say that … I’ve been looking into it later and according to the gospels it was Mathias who replaced Judas … and I’m going to have to check to see … check these bloody names and see whether Paul is included at all’
25:48 ‘same sort of letters as the Book of Lindisfarne
26:00 ‘how did they get the girdle on to hold it?’ … note of ER travelling to the British Museum to see it taken apart
28:04 the foot mount
28:54 silver-topped rivets to hold the handles
29:08 Brass rim
29:25 the bottom
30:56 ‘I think the projector is not one I’ve used locally … usually’
31:44 upper & lower foot girdles
32:07 blue glass studs that the chalice stood on when in use
33:17 ‘those are copper and silver wires … probably done like Mr [indistinct] through a hole [indistinct] in a spool … put thread through it and you get a long hollow string and then they cut it and opened it out’
33:36 ‘and these are very interesting … and I know … you could lick your finger and just wipe them you could see for a minute, but in the British Museum they actually put oil on them and they were able to get them so you could see through them ... or translucent … just long enough to take a photograph before it dried out … and if you look you can perhaps notice … a pattern behind … [indistinct] but here is the silver panel that’s behind them all … there’s a stamped silver panel’
34:27 ‘and I’m finishing with Derrynaflan … I forgot to bring down … I should have brought down the slide with the chalice of Derrynaflan and the chalice of Ardagh next to one another … because I’m going to tell you that [] the chalice of Derrynaflan is a second rate object! I know if we hadn’t got the Ardagh Chalice we’d say it was terrific … and any other museum or country in the world would give its eye teeth for it … but it’s a very poor imitation’
35:20 Derrynaflan & Ardagh hoards thieves’ hoard vs. custodian’s hoard
36:10 Paten
36:36 strainer
36:40 covered by bowl
36:48 paten & stand are the prize pieces
37:00 possibly made by same person/workshop who made the Ardagh Chalice
37:17 strainer
37:30 Ardagh Chalice was take/given & replaced with Derrynaflan Chalice
37:40 Derrynaflan 50 to 60 years later than the Ardagh Chalice
38:00 the strainer
38:14 The tape stopped in the recorder at this point – apparently due to an oily residue on the tape.

ER continues on the strainer: ‘It would make an awful mess! … in other words … and furthermore … this is bronze … this handle is too springy and light … if you filled it up with wine it’d go woop like that … clearly … this was not meant to be used … neither were the other objects … they were for presentation on an altar for special occasions … feast days … like the Ardagh Chalice … like the Book of Kells … like all these objects … Do socair glór Dé agus a onóir, mar sin de [to the peaceful glory of God and his honour, and so on] … there is the chalice … it looks lovely ... it isn’t … it’s [indistinct] it’s a poor effort! It really … It’s missing the rim … brass rim which take the bare look off the other one …’

After a little more explaining how awful the Derrynaflan Chalice is, the tape quality degrades markedly as the lecture ends

Prof. Etienne Rynne at the north doorway of Annaghdown Cathedral
Co. Galway, in 1996 (© Chapple Collection)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Domination's the name of the game: A Dress Fastener from Co. Tyrone and Fetish Wear in the Bronze Age

[The case has been made to me that certain aspects of this post are unsuitable for younger readers. In particular, the feedback I’ve received has been that both the title of the piece and the inclusions of links to ‘+18’ sites are problematic. I make no apology for either of these. The original title was deliberately provocative to attract attention and the links were necessary to provide references and proofs of my research. Nonetheless, I think there may be some merit in making a more ‘family friendly’ version available. To this end, I have reverted the title I used for an earlier draft and removed all of the hyperlinks in the text, including those to non-controversial sites. The only change to the text has been to edit the note regarding the source of the title. Otherwise, everything remains unchanged. The original, unexpurgated, version remains available to those want it.]


Of all the beautiful Bronze Age gold items held by the National Museum of Ireland, I have a special affection for this particular one, known as a ‘Dress Fastener’, from Killymoon Demesne, Co. Tyrone. Sure, it’s gorgeous and oh-so-gold … but that’s not what intrigues me about it. It’s the fact that it was discovered in a simple wooden box. It’s exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t usually survive and gives us a fleeting glimpse into how these beautiful objects would have been cared for and curated.

The above was, pretty much, the entirety of what I had intended to say about it.
1) Beautiful gold
2) wooden box
3) General loveliness …

Except that’s not exactly how things worked out …

When I posted this image on social media, a little good-natured discussion about the function and naming of such artefacts ensued. The first part of the discussion centred on the usefulness of the term ‘Dress Fastener’ … the name comes from the 19th century belief that they were literally used to close a cloak or cape of some kind. As they were gold and decorated they could easily demonstrate power, wealth, status and whatever else you care to mention. The problem with this is that they’re not eminently practical … if you’re looking to close a cloak there are plenty of easier ways of doing it. And this is where the viewpoints really diverge – some felt that when it comes to practicality, that should be the ‘acid test’ … if it doesn’t work well for the purpose suggested, it’s unlikely to have been used for that. The other side is that – as we see with some modern status symbols – they don’t have to be particularly practical to convey the message of power. Think of Lamborghinis … they look great and send some very clear messages about wealth and status … but they’re hardly a practical means of ferrying a bunch of small kids to football practice, or bringing home a week’s shopping. So, practicality may not be the final arbiter here. Other suggested uses included as bracelets … though, again the dichotomy between practicality and symbolism remains. I’ve occasionally wondered if they’re not intended to be carried and displayed as a symbol of rank, similar to military batons or regal sceptres. Certainly, the tradition is of considerable antiquity and this use would obviate the questions around wearability. Further, all hand movements would accentuate its presence and the status of the holder. Not a bad idea … and, like all the others, rather unprovable.

I was half-way through composing the thoughts above into something resembling a coherent statement when someone (you know who you are!) suggested that the Killymoon example is too small to be a bracelet. Instead it could have been used as a pendant or something similar to cufflinks. There was a quick retort that the Killymoon artefact was some 76mm across the bow, so perfectly feasible as a bracelet. However, that post also had a single word suggestion that completely changed how I will forever see these artefacts … that word was ‘cock ring’!

I’ll admit that my initial reaction was a straightforward ‘no’ … to be fair, a second, more thoughtful, consideration of the idea resulted in a ‘Hell no!’ … but when I thought about it still more I realised that my dismissal was mostly based on the fact that I don’t wear one, so I reckoned that other people don’t wear them … and that people in the past didn’t wear them. This line of reasoning is always seductive – seeing the past not only as a mirror of the present, but as a mirror of current middle class propriety – but is most probably wrong! Think about Mary Cahill’s excellent work in rethinking the Bronze Age gold ‘boxes’ as ear spools and how a much more plausible function could be postulated once we moved away from safe and cosy interpretations found within ‘mainstream’ society [here | here].

Once I got past my disagreement that people of the past would have embraced ‘that sort of thing’, I next reasoned that it couldn’t be a cock ring as it wasn’t an actual ‘ring’ … I probably would have left it right there had it not been for one small fact: gin! My lovely wife had bought me a bottle of rather wonderful Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin and I had imbibed of its ginny goodness … a bit. It was for that reason I decided that it was a perfectly wonderful idea to Google ‘cock ring’ in the hopes of proving or disproving the availability of what may be described as a ‘lobed, penannular’ form, rather than the wholly annular variety.

The things I do for archaeology!

Horseshoe cock ring sold by bondara.co.uk

I’ve seen a whole lot of wieners in the last while … a whole lot dressed up in rings, piercings, cages, and a plethora of other stuff I really hadn’t expected. Based on this less than rigorous research, I can confirm that cock rings similar to Dress Fasteners do exist. The chief one I found (currently on sale at £17.99 – down from £23.99 at bondara.co.uk) is called (unsurprisingly) a Horseshoe cock ring and features an penannular ring with lobate terminals. A second example from the leaves-little-to-the-imagination-titled vendor Penis Plugs Ablaze boasts that it is constructed of ‘highest quality German surgical stainless steel’ and is ‘heavy as f**k’ (priced at $66, but currently out of stock). True, neither are an exact match for the Killymoon Dress Fastener, but it hardly strains credulity to imagine that – in design terms – they are related. Based on the photographs of the second example, it is clear that it is intended to be worn with the penis and scrotum on one side of the ring and the gentleman’s body on the other (making it technically a cock-and-ball ring, rather than just a cock ring). This is in contrast to the ‘true’ cock ring that is worn at the junction of the penis and the testicles. It is also clear from the photographs that the terminals are intended to rest upwards – on the upper surface of the penis. It is also abundantly clear from the photographs that the wearer was having a really good time … proceed with caution!

Horseshoe cock ring sold by Penis Plugs Ablaze

Horseshoe cock ring sold by Penis Plugs Ablaze

There’s only one slight problem … our first modern horseshoe version comes in two diameters – 45mm and 50mm … while the second one has an internal diameter of 44mm … both are quite a way below Killymoon’s 76mm (maximum). I’m disinclined to believe that our Bronze Age forbearers were so spectacularly over endowed in comparison to modern men. I did joke to my correspondents on social media that gold is fairly malleable and it may have been possible to manually resize the item to something a bit more ‘snug’ as desired, though I’m not sure how much weight I’d put in that observation. Instead, it is possible that the more important measurement is the smaller gap between the terminals and the back of the Dress Fastener. I’ve not been able to ascertain this exact dimension, but from the available photographs it certainly looks like it may well be around the 45-50mm range. If that were about right, it would be wholly within the bounds of possibility that dress fasteners could have been worn in this manner. Of course, ‘could’ does not equal ‘did’, but there remains an intriguing possibility.

I’m repeatedly drawn back to an old quote (often attributed to Oscar Wilde) that I most recently heard on the US remake of House of Cards: “A great man once said, everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.” We repeatedly (rightly or wrongly) fall back to ideas of the past where power is reflected in and maintained through prestige items, such as the Dress Fasteners. When we come to Iron Age and Early Medieval ideas of Kingship we’re pretty good at making those links between the physical perfection of the King and his quasi sexual relationship with the land and the fertility and fecundity that are dependent upon that relationship. However, we may yet have a way to go before we adequately add physical sexual characteristics into our common understanding of power in prehistoric Ireland. Instead of viewing sexuality in the past through the inherited lens of Victorian mores, perhaps we need to reimagine societies where the display of genitalia (both male and female) was used to emphasise and display the wearer’s sexual prowess and, by extension, their military vigour and/or fitness to rule. In such a scenario one could imagine a tribal leader presenting himself to his people in all his finery – wearing a gorget around his neck, his ear lobes stretched to accommodate a pair of fine gold boxes that catch the sun with every turn of his head … and his crowning glory … his stiffened member resplendent, clamped in a fine golden cock ring, demonstrating to the assembly (and the ever-watching gods) his fitness to rule and the continued fruitfulness of the land in his care.

I may have to go have a little lie down after that image … dear lord! …

A particular problem with this idea is, of course, that there is no evidence in prehistory for cock rings or cock-and-ball rings ever being worn. Except, that isn’t true! Or … at least it may not be true! My (admittedly brief) research has thrown up a small number of internet sites that purport to tell the history of the cock ring. I have been unable to verify any of the details gleaned in this manner in credible (preferably peer reviewed) publications. I also would note that the Wikipedia entry for the cock ring includes no history or discussion of the origin and antiquity of the device. My reticence is based on the oft-repeated, but completely fake history of the Prince Albert piercing. The story that the piercing was invented by Albert, the Prince Consort, ‘to tame the appearance of his large penis in tight trousers’ is a fabrication created by Doug Malloy in the 1970s and has no basis in fact. For all that, and until such time as I can find independent verification or denial, I give the historical snippets as I have found them … add appropriately sceptical volumes of salt to taste ...

Roman amulet - decidedly not a cock ring!

The Cumm UK website claims that the ancient Chinese were the first to use cock rings. These were formed from the eyelids of goats, with the eyelashes left intact. Later, during the Ming Dynasty (1388-1644 AD) cock rings were made from jade or ivory, and some were even encrusted with jewels. In answer to the question ‘Did people wear cock rings in the ancient times?’ on quora.com, Michelle Adams (self-described ‘Sex Toy Reviewer, DJ, Video Editor, Dog Lover’) answers in the affirmative. She uses a curious turn of phrase, stating: ‘The first cock rings [sic.] was found in Greece, however, the first documented use of cock ring was in china [sic.]’. If I read this correctly, she is stating that the oldest physically surviving rings were found in Greece, though there is documentary evidence for earlier examples from China. She dates the Chinese invention to the Jin Dynasty, stating that they became popular during the Song and Ming Dynasties. Unfortunately, this is difficult to fathom as there are two Jin Dynasties. There is the Jin Gynasty commonly known as Sima Jin and Liang Jin that dates to the period from 265-420 AD and the Great Jin that ran from 1115 to 1234 AD. I presume she is referring to the latter as it was broadly concurrent with the Song Dynasty that survived from 960-1279 AD. The same source also shows an image of a multi-membered amulet with a large ring, though no particular scale is shown. While this form of amulet was rather common in the Roman world and was worn as a good luck totem to ward off the evil eye - usually as a pendant around the neck or attached to a belt, rather than in the manner of cock rings described here. I am especially grateful to one of my correspondents who informs me that this particular example was most likely intended to be displayed on a horse harness. The matetip.com website (which, let’s be frank, doesn’t appear to be the most reliable news outlet) reiterates the pretty icky goat eyelid story and claims a Chinese origin around 1200 AD. It also illustrates a jade cock ring, but appears to suggest that it is a modern example rather than an ancient one. The Image credit is given as AllProducts.com, but I cannot find any similar items on their website. I think we can be clear that the ‘historical evidence’ currently leaves much to be desired, but may well be a fruitful avenue for careful research.

Modern? cock ring in jade

By no means can I confidently state that Dress Fasteners were really used as cock rings, but the more I think on it, the more I think it an interesting avenue of enquiry that deserves further serious study.







Next Steps …
Obviously, the historical background needs to be properly investigated and published. Beyond that I think we need some grant money to push this forward. I’m thinking that we start with the purchase of a few modern replicas before going down the experimental archaeology route of selecting a willing post-graduate or two to look at aspects of the manufacture and wearing of the items. Beyond that we urgently need a wholesale reassessment of Bronze Age metalwork in Ireland and across the continent. A few long weekends in an assortment of fetish clubs and allied dens of iniquity shouldn’t be ruled out either … field work, don’t you know!




Further thoughts …
In my research for this piece, I came across an amazing example in sterling silver, decorated with carnelian cabochons from WikedIntent. It is a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but it strikes me that an ancient example, if found out of context, would be more easily described as a penannular brooch that was missing its’ pin, rather than a cock ring. Maybe we also need to revisit our collections of Early Medieval metalwork too …

Horseshoe cock ring sold by WikedIntent
A bronze zoomorphic, penannular brooch with decorated terminals. The pin is missing.The brooch was found in Co Cork. Hunt Collection

But … that very same site has a wide variety of cock rings (many, quite attractively priced in the £15-20 range) that are made of beads. These rings are composed of various forms of spherical and cylindrical beads of both glass and metal [see examples: here | here | here]. Suddenly a whole new vista for the interpretation of glass beads opens up … not everything has to be a necklace or a bracelet!

Beaded cock ring sold by WikedIntent

It also strikes me (and at least one of my correspondents) that if we are to reimagine the role of the Dress Fastener we should expand the research to all surviving items from our prehistoric past. Obviously, the rather phallic looking Ralaghan Figure, from Co. Cavan would need to be reassessed in this context. However, so too should objects like the chain-link collar from Roscommon, Co. Roscommon (dated to 900-500 BC). I have long-thought it a curious, and borderline S&M inspired, object.


Chain-link collar from Roscommon, Co. Roscommon

Perhaps we should begin to rethink our ideas of prehistoric warriors from something like this:

'Celtic' Warriors

To something like this …

Depeche Mode's wonderful Martin Gore

Notes:
If you were one of the people involved in this online discussion and you’re wondering why you’re not named for your specific contributions to the discoveries we made, the reason is simple. I like you and, as some of you have careers in archaeology, that I don’t want to see you ruined by association! …

Should you – for whatever reason – wish to indulge your interests in this matter, Lovehoney provide instructions on how to measure oneself to ensure a correctly fitted cockring: here.

The title, ‘Domination's the name of the game’, is taken from Depeche Mode’s 1984 single Master and Servant. But, of course, you knew that 


It gives me no small amount of pleasure to think that future students of these beautiful Dress Fasteners, should they wish to appear comprehensive in their reading and in the compilation of their bibliographies, will simply have to reference this paper … you’re welcome!

Note (Morning of January 1st 2017). I woke this morning and was suddenly struck by the memory that many of the gentlemen cock ring wearers I've found pictures of on the internet (healthy young men that they are) are bearded or quite stubley, but their genitals are remarkably follicle-free ... perhaps it was similar in the Bronze Age and those lovely razors were never really intended for going near a face, but were developed for the purpose of pubic topiary ... 

Bronze Age razor from Booltiaghdine, Co. Clare



Sunday, January 1, 2017

Naked wearing only a cock ring: A Dress Fastener from Co. Tyrone and Fetish Wear in the Bronze Age


[Owing to concerns over the title and the inclusion of supporting links to mature websites, I've created a slightly different version, available here, that uses a different title and removes the links. The text is otherwise almost identical]

Of all the beautiful Bronze Age gold items held by the National Museum of Ireland, I have a special affection for this particular one, known as a ‘Dress Fastener’, from Killymoon Demesne, Co. Tyrone. Sure, it’s gorgeous and oh-so-gold … but that’s not what intrigues me about it. It’s the fact that it was discovered in a simple wooden box. It’s exactly the sort of thing that doesn’t usually survive and gives us a fleeting glimpse into how these beautiful objects would have been cared for and curated.

The above was, pretty much, the entirety of what I had intended to say about it.
1) Beautiful gold
2) wooden box
3) General loveliness …

Except that’s not exactly how things worked out …

When I posted this image on social media, a little good-natured discussion about the function and naming of such artefacts ensued. The first part of the discussion centred on the usefulness of the term ‘Dress Fastener’ … the name comes from the 19th century belief that they were literally used to close a cloak or cape of some kind. As they were gold and decorated they could easily demonstrate power, wealth, status and whatever else you care to mention. The problem with this is that they’re not eminently practical … if you’re looking to close a cloak there are plenty of easier ways of doing it. And this is where the viewpoints really diverge – some felt that when it comes to practicality, that should be the ‘acid test’ … if it doesn’t work well for the purpose suggested, it’s unlikely to have been used for that. The other side is that – as we see with some modern status symbols – they don’t have to be particularly practical to convey the message of power. Think of Lamborghinis … they look great and send some very clear messages about wealth and status … but they’re hardly a practical means of ferrying a bunch of small kids to football practice, or bringing home a week’s shopping. So, practicality may not be the final arbiter here. Other suggested uses included as bracelets … though, again the dichotomy between practicality and symbolism remains. I’ve occasionally wondered if they’re not intended to be carried and displayed as a symbol of rank, similar to military batons or regal sceptres. Certainly, the tradition is of considerable antiquity and this use would obviate the questions around wearability. Further, all hand movements would accentuate its presence and the status of the holder. Not a bad idea … and, like all the others, rather unprovable.

I was half-way through composing the thoughts above into something resembling a coherent statement when someone (you know who you are!) suggested that the Killymoon example is too small to be a bracelet. Instead it could have been used as a pendant or something similar to cufflinks. There was a quick retort that the Killymoon artefact was some 76mm across the bow, so perfectly feasible as a bracelet. However, that post also had a single word suggestion that completely changed how I will forever see these artefacts … that word was ‘cock ring’!

I’ll admit that my initial reaction was a straightforward ‘no’ … to be fair, a second, more thoughtful, consideration of the idea resulted in a ‘Hell no!’ … but when I thought about it still more I realised that my dismissal was mostly based on the fact that I don’t wear one, so I reckoned that other people don’t wear them … and that people in the past didn’t wear them. This line of reasoning is always seductive – seeing the past not only as a mirror of the present, but as a mirror of current middle class propriety – but is most probably wrong! Think about Mary Cahill’s excellent work in rethinking the Bronze Age gold ‘boxes’ as ear spools and how a much more plausible function could be postulated once we moved away from safe and cosy interpretations found within ‘mainstream’ society [here | here].

Once I got past my disagreement that people of the past would have embraced ‘that sort of thing’, I next reasoned that it couldn’t be a cock ring as it wasn’t an actual ‘ring’ … I probably would have left it right there had it not been for one small fact: gin! My lovely wife had bought me a bottle of rather wonderful Ableforth’s Bathtub Gin and I had imbibed of its ginny goodness … a bit. It was for that reason I decided that it was a perfectly wonderful idea to Google ‘cock ring’ in the hopes of proving or disproving the availability of what may be described as a ‘lobed, penannular’ form, rather than the wholly annular variety.

The things I do for archaeology!

Horseshoe cock ring sold by bondara.co.uk
I’ve seen a whole lot of wieners in the last while … a whole lot dressed up in rings, piercings, cages, and a plethora of other stuff I really hadn’t expected. Based on this less than rigorous research, I can confirm that cock rings similar to Dress Fasteners do exist. The chief one I found (currently on sale at £17.99 – down from £23.99 at bondara.co.uk) is called (unsurprisingly) a Horseshoe cock ring and features an penannular ring with lobate terminals. A second example from the leaves-little-to-the-imagination-titled vendor Penis Plugs Ablaze boasts that it is constructed of ‘highest quality German surgical stainless steel’ and is ‘heavy as f**k’ (priced at $66, but currently out of stock). True, neither are an exact match for the Killymoon Dress Fastener, but it hardly strains credulity to imagine that – in design terms – they are related. Based on the photographs of the second example, it is clear that it is intended to be worn with the penis and scrotum on one side of the ring and the gentleman’s body on the other (making it technically a cock-and-ball ring, rather than just a cock ring). This is in contrast to the ‘true’ cock ring that is worn at the junction of the penis and the testicles. It is also clear from the photographs that the terminals are intended to rest upwards – on the upper surface of the penis. It is also abundantly clear from the photographs that the wearer was having a really good time … proceed with caution!
Horseshoe cock ring sold by Penis Plugs Ablaze
Horseshoe cock ring sold by Penis Plugs Ablaze
There’s only one slight problem … our first modern horseshoe version comes in two diameters – 45mm and 50mm … while the second one has an internal diameter of 44mm … both are quite a way below Killymoon’s 76mm (maximum). I’m disinclined to believe that our Bronze Age forbearers were so spectacularly over endowed in comparison to modern men. I did joke to my correspondents on social media that gold is fairly malleable and it may have been possible to manually resize the item to something a bit more ‘snug’ as desired, though I’m not sure how much weight I’d put in that observation. Instead, it is possible that the more important measurement is the smaller gap between the terminals and the back of the Dress Fastener. I’ve not been able to ascertain this exact dimension, but from the available photographs it certainly looks like it may well be around the 45-50mm range. If that were about right, it would be wholly within the bounds of possibility that dress fasteners could have been worn in this manner. Of course, ‘could’ does not equal ‘did’, but there remains an intriguing possibility.

I’m repeatedly drawn back to an old quote (often attributed to Oscar Wilde) that I most recently heard on the US remake of House of Cards: “A great man once said, everything is about sex. Except sex. Sex is about power.” We repeatedly (rightly or wrongly) fall back to ideas of the past where power is reflected in and maintained through prestige items, such as the Dress Fasteners. When we come to Iron Age and Early Medieval ideas of Kingship we’re pretty good at making those links between the physical perfection of the King and his quasi sexual relationship with the land and the fertility and fecundity that are dependent upon that relationship. However, we may yet have a way to go before we adequately add physical sexual characteristics into our common understanding of power in prehistoric Ireland. Instead of viewing sexuality in the past through the inherited lens of Victorian mores, perhaps we need to reimagine societies where the display of genitalia (both male and female) was used to emphasise and display the wearer’s sexual prowess and, by extension, their military vigour and/or fitness to rule. In such a scenario one could imagine a tribal leader presenting himself to his people in all his finery – wearing a gorget around his neck, his ear lobes stretched to accommodate a pair of fine gold boxes that catch the sun with every turn of his head … and his crowning glory … his stiffened member resplendent, clamped in a fine golden cock ring, demonstrating to the assembly (and the ever-watching gods) his fitness to rule and the continued fruitfulness of the land in his care.

I may have to go have a little lie down after that image … dear lord! …

A particular problem with this idea is, of course, that there is no evidence in prehistory for cock rings or cock-and-ball rings ever being worn. Except, that isn’t true! Or … at least it may not be true! My (admittedly brief) research has thrown up a small number of internet sites that purport to tell the history of the cock ring. I have been unable to verify any of the details gleaned in this manner in credible (preferably peer reviewed) publications. I also would note that the Wikipedia entry for the cock ring includes no history or discussion of the origin and antiquity of the device. My reticence is based on the oft-repeated, but completely fake history of the Prince Albert piercing. The story that the piercing was invented by Albert, the Prince Consort, ‘to tame the appearance of his large penis in tight trousers’ is a fabrication created by Doug Malloy in the 1970s and has no basis in fact. For all that, and until such time as I can find independent verification or denial, I give the historical snippets as I have found them … add appropriately sceptical volumes of salt to taste ...

Roman amulet - decidedly not a cock ring! [Source]
The Cumm UK website claims that the ancient Chinese were the first to use cock rings. These were formed from the eyelids of goats, with the eyelashes left intact. Later, during the Ming Dynasty (1388-1644 AD) cock rings were made from jade or ivory, and some were even encrusted with jewels. In answer to the question ‘Did people wear cock rings in the ancient times?’ on quora.com, Michelle Adams (self-described ‘Sex Toy Reviewer, DJ, Video Editor, Dog Lover’) answers in the affirmative. She uses a curious turn of phrase, stating: ‘The first cock rings [sic.] was found in Greece, however, the first documented use of cock ring was in china [sic.]’. If I read this correctly, she is stating that the oldest physically surviving rings were found in Greece, though there is documentary evidence for earlier examples from China. She dates the Chinese invention to the Jin Dynasty, stating that they became popular during the Song and Ming Dynasties. Unfortunately, this is difficult to fathom as there are two Jin Dynasties. There is the Jin Gynasty commonly known as Sima Jin and Liang Jin that dates to the period from 265-420 AD and the Great Jin that ran from 1115 to 1234 AD. I presume she is referring to the latter as it was broadly concurrent with the Song Dynasty that survived from 960-1279 AD. The same source also shows an image of a multi-membered amulet with a large ring, though no particular scale is shown. While this form of amulet was rather common in the Roman world and was worn as a good luck totem to ward off the evil eye - usually as a pendant around the neck or attached to a belt, rather than in the manner of cock rings described here. I am especially grateful to one of my correspondents who informs me that this particular example was most likely intended to be displayed on a horse harness. The matetip.com website (which, let’s be frank, doesn’t appear to be the most reliable news outlet) reiterates the pretty icky goat eyelid story and claims a Chinese origin around 1200 AD. It also illustrates a jade cock ring, but appears to suggest that it is a modern example rather than an ancient one. The Image credit is given as AllProducts.com, but I cannot find any similar items on their website. I think we can be clear that the ‘historical evidence’ currently leaves much to be desired, but may well be a fruitful avenue for careful research.

Modern? cock ring in jade [Source]
By no means can I confidently state that Dress Fasteners were really used as cock rings, but the more I think on it, the more I think it an interesting avenue of enquiry that deserves further serious study.







Next Steps …
Obviously, the historical background needs to be properly investigated and published. Beyond that I think we need some grant money to push this forward. I’m thinking that we start with the purchase of a few modern replicas before going down the experimental archaeology route of selecting a willing post-graduate or two to look at aspects of the manufacture and wearing of the items. Beyond that we urgently need a wholesale reassessment of Bronze Age metalwork in Ireland and across the continent. A few long weekends in an assortment of fetish clubs and allied dens of iniquity shouldn’t be ruled out either … field work, don’t you know!




Further thoughts …
In my research for this piece, I came across an amazing example in sterling silver, decorated with carnelian cabochons from WikedIntent. It is a truly beautiful piece of craftsmanship, but it strikes me that an ancient example, if found out of context, would be more easily described as a penannular brooch that was missing its’ pin, rather than a cock ring. Maybe we also need to revisit our collections of Early Medieval metalwork too …
Horseshoe cock ring sold by WikedIntent
A bronze zoomorphic, penannular brooch with decorated terminals. The pin is missing.The brooch was found in Co Cork. Hunt Collection [Source]
But … that very same site has a wide variety of cock rings (many, quite attractively priced in the £15-20 range) that are made of beads. These rings are composed of various forms of spherical and cylindrical beads of both glass and metal [see examples: here | here | here]. Suddenly a whole new vista for the interpretation of glass beads opens up … not everything has to be a necklace or a bracelet!

Beaded cock ring sold by WikedIntent 
It also strikes me (and at least one of my correspondents) that if we are to reimagine the role of the Dress Fastener we should expand the research to all surviving items from our prehistoric past. Obviously, the rather phallic looking Ralaghan Figure, from Co. Cavan would need to be reassessed in this context. However, so too should objects like the chain-link collar from Roscommon, Co. Roscommon (dated to 900-500 BC). I have long-thought it a curious, and borderline S&M inspired, object.



Perhaps we should begin to rethink our ideas of prehistoric warriors from something like this:

'Celtic' Warriors [Source]

To something like this …

Depeche Mode's wonderful Martin Gore [Source]

Notes:
If you were one of the people involved in this online discussion and you’re wondering why you’re not named for your specific contributions to the discoveries we made, the reason is simple. I like you and, as some of you have careers in archaeology, that I don’t want to see you ruined by association! …

Should you – for whatever reason – wish to indulge your interests in this matter, Lovehoney provide instructions on how to measure oneself to ensure a correctly fitted cockring: here.

The line ‘Naked wearing only a cock ring’ is taken from the movie Pump Up the Volume (1990), starring the wonderful Christian Slater. But, of course, you knew that. An earlier draft of this paper used the title ‘Domination's the name of the game’, taken from Depeche Mode’s 1984 single Master and Servant. But, of course, you knew that too.


It gives me no small amount of pleasure to think that future students of these beautiful Dress Fasteners, should they wish to appear comprehensive in their reading and in the compilation of their bibliographies, will simply have to reference this paper … you’re welcome!

Note (Morning of January 1st 2017). I woke this morning and was suddenly struck by the memory that many of the gentlemen cock ring wearers I've found pictures of on the internet (healthy young men that they are) are bearded or quite stubley, but their genitals are remarkably follicle-free ... perhaps it was similar in the Bronze Age and those lovely razors were never really intended for going near a face, but were developed for the purpose of pubic topiary ... 


Bronze Age razor from Booltiaghdine, Co. Clare [Source]