Archaeologists in northern Israel have uncovered a historically significant and somewhat hilarious house that dates to ancient Roman times. The house is decorated with beautiful nature frescoes, as well as artifacts covered in phallic symbols.
Researchers believe the house was built sometime in the late first century or early second century AD. It was discovered at the Omrit dig site, situated at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Hulah Valley.
Professor Daniel Schowalter of Wisconsin's Carthage College claims that the house's floors were plastered, its walls decorated with frescoes and the house, when it was new, was probably two stories.
Schowalter, in an address to the Society for Classical Studies and the Archaeological Institute of America, said that it is unknown who lived in the house. But he speculates that it may have been a Roman official who was garrisoned at Judea, or a local noble person who decorated their home with Roman designs.
The entire house has yet to be excavated. The frescoes that have been documented show plants, fish, trees, birds and other scenes from nature. One fresco shows two ducks huddled close together.
By Schowalter's estimation, the house was demolished at some point during the early third century A.D.
The home also contained a number of phallus-shaped amulets. Such amulets were actually common in the Roman Empire. Historians believe they were a ward against bad luck.
Schowalter co-directs the Omrit Settlement Excavation project along with colleagues from various universities. He works with Jason Schlude from Saint John's University and Saint Benedict, Michael Nelson of the City University of New York's Queens College, Jennifer Gates Foster from The University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and Benjamin Rubin, an independent researcher.
When a brushfire cleared the Omrit region in 1998, archaeologists started getting dirt under their fingernails. They found many Roman relics, including a large temple that displayed signs of three different cycles of construction between the first century B.C. and the first century A.D. It may actually be the temple constructed in 20 B.C. to honor Augustus, built by Herod. Omrit was inhabited at least through the Byzantine era.
Even in the sober atmosphere of scientific consideration, there must have been at least a few giggles at the amulets. While we have abandoned the legacy of wearing phalluses around our necks, it is a wonder to imagine a world where it was common practice. Guess their powers weren't strong enough to save the Empire.