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NT HBSMR Number:110511
Type of Record:Monument
Name:Cerne Abbas Giant, Hill-Figure

Summary

The Cerne Giant is a turf-cut figure on the south-west end of Giant Hill. It represents a nude man striding towards the left, he holds a knotted club in the right hand and has the left arm stretched out.

Grid Reference:ST 666 016
Civil Parish:Cerne Abbas; West Dorset; Dorset
County:Dorset
District:West Dorset; Dorset
NT Property:Cerne Giant; South West
Map:Show location on GoogleMaps

Protected Status

  • Scheduled Monument

Other References/Statuses

  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • National Monuments Record Reference: ST60SE39
  • Site of Special Scientific Interest (Biological)

Monument Types

  • HILL FIGURE (Undated)

Full description

The Giant is a figure cut into the turf to expose a white chalk outline. It is almost 60 metres tall, and brandishes a club 40 metres long. It represents a nude figure striding towards the left; he holds a knotted club in the right hand and has the left arm stretched out; the nipples and ribs are badly represented as is the phallus. The figure, according to Hutchins ( History of Dorset, 1774), had letters or figures between the legs of doubtful significance and date. Whether the outstreched left arm originally carried a lion skin or cloak is open to debate, resitivity surveys have revealled traces of cutting into the chalk in this area.

The giants origin is uncertain and three arguements for a potential date have developed. The first faction, citing lack of documentary evidence in the medieval period for the figure, date the Giant to the seventeenth or eighteenth century. If this is the case the Giant is another gentleman's folly; but there is evidence that contradicts the above, 'this figure has been reported to have been made by Lord Holles's servants, during his residence here, but it is more likely that he only caused it to be repaired; for some people who died not long before 1772, 80 or 90 years old, when young, knew some of the same age that averred it was there before the memory of man' ( Hutchins 1774). This is important as this appears to date the Giant to at least the early seventeenth century. There is also evidence that in the medieval period the Giant was referred to as Helis ( W. Stukeley, Minute Books, Soc. of Antiq., 1764).

The second faction believe the Giant to be of Romano-British date. They argue that the Giant closely resembles representations of the Roman hero-god Hercules, who was derived from the Greek hero Heracles, although the evidence of stylistic comparison is flimsy.

The third faction believe the Giant is of Celtic origin. They compare the Giant stylistically to a representation of a Celtic god on a a skillet handle found at Hod Hill, Dorset. The handle almost certainly dates from between AD 10 to AD 51. From this the theory is put foward that the Giant dates approximately the same period as the handle and was made by the Durotriges to represent a god of fertility and hunting. However the recent optical dating of the Uffington White Horse to the late Bronze Age may force a revision of this Iron Age date to an earlier one in prehistory.
His body is outlined and detailed by narrow trenches no more than 0.60 metres wide, and his condition has been maintained by periodic scouring by the local people, an activity which traditionally occurred at long intervals. Gerald Pitman of Sherborne has carefully chronicled the history of the Giant, and has records of scourings in 1694, 1868 and 1887, when the fence was placed around the figure. There are records of five scourings this century at intervals ranging from eleven to twenty-three years. During that of 1908, the Giant's navel, which by then must have become almost completely obscure, appears to have been incorporated into his phallus. However, there is now no clear record of what his condition was when the property was given to the National Trust in 1920 by Alexander and George Pitt-Rivers, although this was the year that Flinders Petrie carried out his survey of the Giant. The gift to the Trust was endowed by Henry Hoare of Stourhead, Wiltshire in 1924.

Sources / Further Reading

---SNA64739 - Collection: National Trust. Collection of photographs related to re-chalking the Cerne Abbas Giant 1959 to 1994.
---SZN13271 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/06/1994. Meeting to Discuss Whether to Uncover the Cloak Indicated by Resistivity Survey.
---SZN14104 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/04/1993. Cerne Abbas Giant's Head before Raising the Nose. 2M/0.5M INT..
---SZN1615 - Monograph: J Hutchins. 1774. The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset. 1.
---SZN16753 - Photograph - colour: David W R Thackray. 01/01/1980. Close up of the Cerne Giant Information Panel..
---SZN22421 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/04/1993. Cerne Abbas Giant's Head before Raising the Nose. 2M/0.5M INT..
---SZN23400 - Photograph - colour: David W R Thackray. 01/01/1980. Close up of cloak/ lion-skin. The additional outline of the "lion-skin" was made by applying a light.
---SZN27097 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/04/1993. Cerne Abbas Giant's Head before Raising the Nose. 2M/0.5M INT..
---SZN35303 - Photograph - colour: David W R Thackray. 01/01/1980. Information Panel with the Giant in the background..
---SZN36401 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/04/1993. Cerne Abbas Giant Viewed from the Main Road North of the Village.
---SZN36402 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/04/1993. Cerne Abbas Giant's Head before Raising the Nose. 2M/0.5M INT..
---SZN39551 - Photograph - colour: David W R Thackray. 01/01/1980. View from lay-by showing the position of the Information Panel..
---SZN44302 - Photograph - colour: David W R Thackray. 01/01/1980. The figure after restoration, with the extended fence and grazed by sheep..
---SZN46903 - Photograph - colour: David W R Thackray. 01/01/1980. Outline of the Giant showing an additional outline on the left arm, revealed by resistivity survey. .
---SZN47069 - Photograph - colour: Martin Papworth. 01/04/1993. Head of Giant after Raising the Nose. 2M/0.5M INT..
---SZN7037 - Article in serial: W Stukeley. 1764. Minute Books. 9.

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Related records: none recorded