The Giant on the Hill
The National Trust has just found out that one of its rudest attractions is also one of its oldest. The Cerne Abbas chalk giant is almost as old as the kingdom England itself.
Generations have speculated about the age and meaning of the club-brandishing giant hewn into a Dorset hillside. Was he a depiction of the legendary demi-god Hercules, an ancient fertility symbol, or even the soldier and statesman Oliver Cromwell? Another theory holds that the figure was carved around the body of a giant who was slain by local people after he terrorised the countryside.
Now, after state-of-the art sediment analysis jointly funded by the National Trust, the University of Gloucestershire, Allen Environmental Archaeology and the Pratt Bequest, National Trust archaeologists have concluded the giant was probably first constructed in the late Saxon period.
I always found it rather odd that people thought anyone in the 17th century could construct a huge landscape outline of a club-wielding man with a massive erection. I mean, if it was a jibe at Cromwell as the 'British Hercules', wouldn't that have invited Roundhead retribution?
But the latest findings also raise questions. Material taken from the deepest layer (1m) yielded a date range of 700-1100AD which suggests the giant was first made by late Saxons.' After all, paganism had pretty much died out by the 10th cent, so why would the monks of nearby Cerne Abbas countenance the creation of a bloke with a big todger? Did they drunk one night and decide it was a good idea?
Apart from the fact that chalk giants are fascinating and mysterious, the Cerne Abbas giant has direct linked to classic supernatural fiction. In 'An Evening's Entertainment', a folk horror tale by M..R. James, there is a reference to a chalk figure that could be the giant. Two rather dodgy characters arrive in a small English village. Bad things happen and the two are later judged to have 'worshipped the old man on the hill'.