Archaeologists “flabbergasted” to find Cerne Giant’s origins are medieval

Behold, the "Rude Man" chalk giant carved on a hill above the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, England.

Enlarge / Behold, the “Rude Man” chalk giant carved on a hill above the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, England. (credit: Barry Batchelor/PA Images/Getty Images)

The Cerne Abbas Giant is a 180-foot-tall figure of a naked man wielding a large club, carved with chalk into a hilltop in Dorset, England. The figure’s generously sized erect phallus has earned it the nickname “Rude Man,” and no doubt contributes to its popularity as a tourist attraction. Archaeologists have long speculated over exactly when, and why, the geoglyph was first created. Now, thanks to a new analysis of sediment samples, they have narrowed down the likely date for the Rude Man’s creation to the late Saxon period—a surprising result, since no other similar chalk figures in the region are known to date from that time period.

“This is not what was expected,” said geoarchaeologist Mike Allen, who has been working with the National Trust on the ongoing project to learn more about the Cerne Abbas Giant. “Many archaeologists and historians thought he was prehistoric or post-medieval, but not medieval. Everyone was wrong, and that makes these results even more exciting.”  National Trust senior archaeologist Martin Papworth told the Guardian he was “flabbergasted” by the results: “I was expecting 17th century.”

In the 1990s, archaeologists relied on soil samples to date another well-known geoglyph—the 360-foot-long Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire—to between 1380 and 550 BC. And the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex dates back to the 16th century.  “Archaeologists have wanted to pigeonhole chalk hill figures into the same period,” said Allen. “But carving these figures was not a particular phase—they’re all individual figures, with local significance, each telling us something about that place and time.”

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