Tag: inscription

Rock of Gelt

Ancient Roman Phallic Graffiti To Be Digitally Immortalized

Picture this: you’re in school as a youngster—middle school, perhaps? And you’re enduring your teacher’s boring history lesson while you pretend to take notes in your marble notebook… but she’s not exactly supervising you very closely. Are you bullet-noting the reign of Henry VIII? Or are you doodling?

Doodles are by no means a modern invention. These carvings from ancient Roman quarry workers are reminiscent of our early journalling days—if you can consider chiseling a crude phallus into hard stone walls doodling.


Ancient Phallus



These relatable ancient drawings have brought fame to the ‘Written Rock of Gelt,’ which Historic England describes as “the rock face of a group of nine Roman inscriptions… cut into the sandstone rock face of a Roman Quarry about 9m above the river on the north side of the River Gelt [in England].” Archaeologists were able to date the inscriptions of the quarry using one particular inscription, which references the consulate of Aper and Maximus, two officials who were elected in 207 AD.





The inscriptions also include, among others, the phrase “VEX LI EG II AVG OF APR SVB AGRICOLA OPTIONE,” which translates roughly to, “A detachment of the Second Legion Augusta; the working face of Apr… under Agricola.” This tells us that the face (above) to the left side of the inscription is not an ancient predecessor of the moon emoji—but it could be, as many archaeologists think, a rough caricature of the quarry project manager. (Think of the pictures you drew of your elementary school teachers—not entirely flattering!)

There are two problems facing the quarry as it exists today. First, the trail that led to the Rock of Gelt collapsed in the 1980s, so the public has not been able to view the inscriptions in decades; archaeologists were only able to descend to the site using a system of ropes and pulleys (shown below).


Archaeologists Descend Wall



Second, the wall (which is made of soft Cumbrian sandstone)is undergoing a natural process of gradual erosion. For both of these reasons, Historic England will fund a project aimed at recording the inscriptions, partnering with Newcastle University and a 3D media platform called Sketchfab.

Ian Haynes, Professor of Archaeology at Newcastle University, explains that “these inscriptions are very vulnerable to further gradual decay. This is a great opportunity to record them as they are in 2019, using the best modern technology to safeguard the ability to study them into the future.”

The Rock of Gelt is significant for its status as one of the very few instances of ancient Roman rock-face inscription in England. In my opinion, at least, the rock’s historical status and comedic appeal are two insanely persuasive reasons to support its digital immortalization!