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 Location: Cerne Abbas Village, Dorset (ST 667017)  Grid Reference: 50.8 N, 2.48 W.

 

Cerne Abbas Hill Giant      Cerne Abbas: (Chalk-cut Figure).

This huge and impressive giant figure is formed by a trench 0.3m (1ft) wide and the same depth, cut into the underlying chalk. He is 55m (180ft) long and 51m (167ft) wide, and his right hand holds an enormous knobbed club 36.5m (120ft) long. His most famous and prominent feature is the erect phallus and testicles which indicate that fertility rites were practised here. This is supported by the fact that until recently, on 1 May maypole dancing and other celebration were held in the Iron-Age earth enclosure known as the Frying Pan situated a little further up the hill, above the giant's left arm.

It has been suggested that his large erection is, in fact, the result of merging a circle representing his navel with a smaller penis during a Victorian re-cut (2)

 

 

 

   Cerne Abbas Giant: ('Rude Man', 'Rude Giant')

The first reference to this figure dates back to 1694: a payment in the Cerne Abbas churchwarden's accounts of 3 shillings towards the re-cutting of the giant. The first written reference is by John Hutchins in his Guide to Dorset, 1751, but no one knows exactly when or who first cut the Giant. Recently, the historian Ronald Hutton stated that it was cut in the 17th century by the Lord Holles' servants. In fact, it's unusual that, unlike the Uffington White Horse, there is no reference to the Cerne Abbas Giant in Medieval documents. During the Civil War (1644 - 1660), Lord Holles was Lord of the Manor but his estate was sequestered and mismanaged by his steward. Maybe then his servants, in this period of chaos, cut the giant in the hillside.

A local legend says that a real giant was killed on the hill and that the people from Cerne Abbas drew round the figure and marked him out on the hillside. Barren women were said to conceive soon after sleeping on the Giant's body, while young women wishing to keep their lovers faithful would walk around the figure three times. Another story ascribes the figure to the monks from the nearby abbey, who cut it as a joke against their abbot. The figure is kept free from grass by a scouring every seven years.

In 2008, a group of archaeologists using special equipment found that part of the carving had been allowed to be obliterated. (1) According to these findings, the free arm should have held a depiction of an animal's skin, giving credence to the theory that the giant was a depiction of a hunter, or alternatively, Heracles with the skin of the Nemean lion over his arm.

 

Who Does it Represent:

The giant is generally considered to represent the god Helith or Hercules, and recent surveys suggest that the figure was cut at the end of the second century AD when the Emperor Commodus (who believed he was a reincarnation of Hercules) revived the worship of this god.

If the Cerne Giant is of any great age, then he probably represents an ancient god; one suggestion is he could be the Celtic god Nodens, who was worshipped by the Durotrige tribe who lived in Dorset before the arrival of the Romans in AD 43. The support for this idea comes from a bronze handle, found when land on a Celtic fort site near Blandford Forum was ploughed up. Archaeologists decided that the handle was Celtic, and that the figure of a naked man depicted on it was Nodens; the Giant on the hill at Cerne Abbas shows a marked relationship in the style of drawing. (1)

Another contender is the Roman god Hercules. In 1764 William Stukely wrote that people in the area called the Giant "Helis". Another writer stated that up until the 6th century, the god Helis was worshipped. Helith and Helis may be bastardisations of the ancient version of the name for Hercules - Hetethkin. The Giant can also be compared with representations of Hercules found in other parts of the country, indicating that the figure dates from the 2nd century at the latest.

Another story says the giant came from Denmark leading an invasion of the coast, and was beheaded by the people of Cerne Abbas while he slept on the hillside. (3).

 

 

Article: The Independent. 1994. (Cerne Abbas giant may have held severed head).

THE CERNE ABBAS giant, a naked relic of ancient British heritage, may once have worn a cloak over his shoulder and carried a severed head in his left hand. New studies of the soil around the giant have found disturbances which suggest that the figure has changed considerably since it was cut into the chalk of a Dorset hillside about 2,000 years ago.

The lines could represent a cloak or animal skin which was a common feature of figures that have survived from this period. It is known from Roman sources that the ancient Britons generally went into battle naked. This is probably because they normally wore only a blanket, carried over the shoulder like the Scots' plaid, and this would encumber them in battle.

Evidence of soil disturbance suggests that the figure may have had additional features which have been lost. A small knoll, some 40cms high, under the left hand could once have been a representation of a severed head.

A severed head would fit with an Iron Age god, a guardian of the tribe returning from battle with the head of an enemy. The figure is in the centre of territory once occupied by a tribe called the Durotriges, an area which is roughly equivalent to present day Dorset. There is an ancient holy well near by. The Celts were keen on sacred springs and so it is an obvious place to create an image of a guardian God.

There are many examples from the Romano-British period of naked warriors carrying a club and a severed head, including a coin minted in the days of King Cymbeline.

The studies have not only raised new questions about the giant, they have also settled some old controversies. During Victorian times the giant's penis became discreetly veiled by the natural growth of shrubbery. Scholars believe that when the penis was subsequently re-excavated it was extended by some two and a half metres. This has now been confirmed.

(Link to Full Article)

 

Article: The Telegraph. 2010. (Cerne Abbas Still working on local Fertility Rates)

'Since Victorian times, the 180ft Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset has been said to cure childlessness and bless women with improved fertility. Now the women in the surrounding towns and villages have the highest birth rates in the country.

The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the women of North Dorset have on average three children each nearly double the national average and nearly three times as much as the city dwellers of Westminster'.

 

Herculese and the Hydra by Antonio Pollaiuolo, 1432 - 1498

 

(Other Prehistoric English Sites)

 

 

References:

1). http://www.weymouth.gov.uk/home.asp?sv=295
2). Grinsel, Leslie "The Cern Abbas Giant 17641980", Antiquity, Vol 54 No 210, March 1980, pp. 2933 (2001 ed, p.73).
3). Woolf, Daniel R. The Social Circulation of the Past: English Historical Culture 15001730. 2003. Oxford University Press. pp. 348, footnote 178.
4).http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/cerne-abbas-giant-may-have-held-severed-head.
  

 

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