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fertility figure

Celtic fertility figure discovered by metal detectorist could score at auction

Paul Shepheard, who discovered the Celtic fertility figure in 2022 in a field in Haconby, England, poses with his metal detector and shovel. Image courtesy of Noonans, photo credit Paul Shepheard
Paul Shepheard, who discovered the Celtic fertility figure in 2022 in a field in Haconby, England, poses with his metal detector and shovel. Image courtesy of Noonans, photo credit Paul Shepheard

LONDON –  A Celtic fertility figure discovered last year in England by a metal detectorist will be offered at Noonans in a two-day sale of Ancient Coins and Antiquities on Wednesday, March 8 and Thursday, March 9 with an estimate of £800-£1,200 (about $962-$1,443).

It was at a detector rally in Haconby in Lincolnshire in 2022 that Paul Shepheard was searching a stubble field with his wife Joanne. She had just found a medieval penny and he was hoping his luck would change when he got a signal on his new XP Deus II metal detector. Digging down 10 inches, he uncovered what he thought was a large steel split pin commonly used to retain wheels on farm carts, which Paul was familiar with as he loved to restore farming equipment when he was younger. But upon looking more closely, he saw the outline of a face and realized it was more significant. In fact, it was a bronze nude figure holding in his right hand an oversized phallus that is hinged for movement. The figure measures 5.5cm high by 1.2cm wide, or slightly more than two inches high by just under half an inch wide.

Shepheard said he will use the proceeds from the auction of the Celtic fertility figure to fund a vacation for his wife and her mother. Image courtesy of Noonans, photo credit Paul Shepheard
Shepheard said he will use the proceeds from the auction of the Celtic fertility figure to fund a vacation for his wife and her mother. Image courtesy of Noonans, photo credit Paul Shepheard

Noonans Consultant in Coins and Artefacts Nigel Mills said: “Dating to the Celtic period from the 1st century A.D., this is a representation of a fertility god, probably based on the Roman god Mercury as he is holding a purse in his left hand.”

He continued: “This male figure, with its hinged oversized phallus, would have had symbolic powers of good luck and warding off evil spirits and may have served as a locking mechanism as a buckle to hold a belt and scabbard for a sword. There is nothing quite like it, I am hoping it will attract a lot of attention.”

The tiny Celtic fertility figure is fashioned from bronze and features a hinged, oversized phallus. Image courtesy of Noonans

The Celtic fertility figure is fashioned from bronze and features a hinged, oversized phallus. Image courtesy of Noonans

Shepheard, who is 69, lives in the town of March in Cambridgeshire and is a retired processing consultant. He has been detecting for 25 years and said: “What I love about metal-detecting is that absolute surprise of what you find, and this certainly came out of the blue. We initially thought it was Roman as the military wore phallic pendants, but they did not have moving parts, so to speak. This was designed by the Celts, who have added a hinged element, making it very artistic, which perhaps made their feelings even more obvious.”

He added: “We hope to use the proceeds from the sale to pay for a holiday for my wife and her mother.”