Geoglyphs

From the earliest recorded time humans have felt an intrinsic need to artistically create sacred images. Animals, either mythical or real, were common themes in prehistory. Sometimes the subject matter was a larger-than-life chieftain or a supernatural being with tremendous powers. Other times abstract or straight lines were represented. Subjects or symbols that seemed larger than life were created with a magical totem quality in mind. If the ground could be scraped away to reveal a different mineral content or rock color it could serve as a marking board. Ritual locations for the living would not be far away.

A "geoglyph" is an artistic rendering, on a massive scale, carved onto the landscape of the earth's surface. Most prolific in Europe are the white chalk geoglyphs of southern England. The majority of experts believe these large-scale carvings had associated religious meanings. By marking the landscape, these images could evoke power and dreams for a clan of people. It is likely they denoted the location of special ritual places used by the ancient dwellers. Some researchers believe they were simply commissioned decorations for the edification of a wealthy noble. Others attribute them to mythical beasts that supposedly roamed the English countryside. Whatever they were created for, and whoever carved them, their purpose remains a mystery. Also a mystery is why crop circles regularly appear in farmer fields near geoglyphs.

The geoglyphs of southern England mostly represent white horses, but some are clearly male figures. Others may be mythical beasts.

Scattered throughout southern England are at least 56 known hill figures cut into the abundant chalk downlands. The most famous of these is the White Horse of Uffington on the Berkshire downs, Oxfordshire. The White Horse of Uffington is 365 feet (111 m) wide at its longest point. It is carved into the chalky side of a hill near the ruins of the Uffington Castle. The abstract silhouette of a horse in motion is similar in design to those found on Celtic coins. Most experts believe the Uffington geo-glyph is the work of Iron Age Celts, carved around the year 100 bce. Ask a ▲ The Bratton H°rse ¡s just be|ow local and they might say it represents the defensive ramParts of an ancient a dragon, drawn in homage to Saint Celtic hilltop fort

George, who supposedly killed one on a neighboring hill many centuries ago. Another theory is the lord of the Uffington Castle commissioned the design based on the Celtic goddess Epona, who is usually depicted with horse features. In the neighboring Wiltshire region are a dozen other white horse carvings etched onto the hillsides. All are carefully preserved, but some are located on private land and may be inaccessible.

The origins of the Long Man of Wilmington, or the Wilmington Giant, remain unknown. The figure may be Roman, Bronze Age, or even depict King Harold from the 11th century. One theory speculates that the Giant was cut for amusement by the monks from the priory in Wilmington village. This theory is supported by the Cerne Abbas Giant, which also had a religious house at its base. Other than amusement, it has been suggested that the monks constructed the Wilmington Giant either because they were heretical, part of a secret occult society, or they were inscribing the image of a pilgrim. Going further back in time, another theory suggests the Giant represents the Anglo-Saxon hero Beowulf, fighting

Grendel with a spear in each hand. Regardless of its true origins, the Long Man of Wilmington is a sight to behold, appearing 226-feet (68-m) high on Windover Hill's 28° slope. The Giant is one of the largest such representations of a man anywhere in the world, being second only to the Giant Of Attacama in Chile, which stands 393 feet (118 m) high.

Cerne Abbas is another massive geoglyph with unknown origins. The earliest record of the giant is mentioned in a text from 1694 and there is a very tenuous reference to the giant in a 13th century manuscript, which supports its antiquity. For centuries, the giant hosted maypole celebrations inside an earthwork located adjacent to

The Cerne Abbas Giant

▲ Horses and giant men constitute the most famous geoglyphs of southern England.

the geoglyph. It is believed that the Cerne Abbas giant represents a fertility symbol because of the figure's erect penis. There is a theory that Cerne Abbas is a pagan god, cut by the Saxons, which would indicate a date earlier than the 13th century. This pagan god may be a representation of Hercules, which could indicate a date as early as the 1st century bce. Another theory dates its carving in the 2nd century ce during the Roman revival of Hercules. This dating does not correspond with the other giants near Plymouth, Cambridge which were cut during the i4th-i6th centuries ce. The Cerne Abbas geoglyph is 180 feet (54 m) high and of similar width to other human figures. The giant is cut in outline with more detail than the Long Man of Wilmington. The Cerne Abbas giant wields a 120 feet (36 m) long club over his head.

Getting to the geoglyphs of England

The Uffington White Horse can be found 1.5 miles due south of Uffington village on the Berkshire downs (although now in Oxfordshire). It is situated facing NW near the top of a very impressive steep escarpment below the Ridgeway Long Distance Footpath. The Wilmington Giant is one of two hill figures in Sussex, the other being a white horse near Litlington. The Wilmington Giant is currently owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society. The Cerne Abbas Giant is cut on a large hill northeast of the village called Cerne Abbas. The figure is in good condition because it is preserved by the National Trust. The figure is fenced in and the grass surrounding it is cut regularly.

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