Re: Origin of circumcision

John Hansen (
5 Nov 1995 18:15:13 GMT

Trying to find the "origins" of any trait is, as you all know, always
debatable but nonetheless equally provocative. Circumcision has been
around for hundreds if not thousands of years, and not just isolated in
one or two particular geographic areas or cultures.
For more than several years now I have been studying central California
charmstones. It is interesting to note that many phallic-shaped
charmstones have been recovered and may possibly reflect that
circumcision was practiced at a very early time here. Most of these
specimens, which have been found in levels dating up to circa. 4000
B.P., feature a very life-like phallus with the glans penis in intricate
detail. Interestingly, some specimens, although clearly phallic, do not
have the prominent glans but more perhaps a "hood."
There is, unfortunately meager evidence ethnographically regarding the
use of the phallic charmstones. In general, charmstones were reportedly
used to bring in game, call fish up streams, cure illnesses, and invoke
health or harm on subjects. There are some fertility references,
however, to the rock material utilized. Many of the phallic types have
been made from chlorite and glaucophane schists which are found in local
outcrops in the central California Coast Ranges. On some of these
outcrops are found a petroglyph style that has come to be known as
"PCN's" (Pecked curvilinear nucleated!) These motifs are oval in shaped
that appear to be raised since the periphery is gouged thus elavating
the oval center. Pomo informants have disclosed that schist was used for
curing sterility and weather control. While there is no mention of male
fecundity it may be speculated that phallic charmstones perhaps
represent some sort of ancient male fertility rite.
Any suggestions and comments regarding this subject are much
appreciated. I have a bibliography of related interest available upon
request. For more information, please contact me. A charmstone webpage
is under construction at my e-mail address.