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Historic England Research Records

Cerne Giant

Hob Uid: 199015
Location :
Dorset
Cerne Abbas
Grid Ref : ST6665101678
Summary : Large turf-cut hill figure on Giant Hill, representing a naked male brandishing a club. Various anatomical features have been boldly depicted. There has been considerable debate over his origins, with most periods from Romano-British to Post Medieval suggested. There have been many suggestions regarding who the figure represents, it has been identified as Hercules and related to the second-century cult of Commodus. Another suggested identity for the figure is Nodons, a Celtic equivalent of Donar, a massively strong all-powerful figure worshipped by the Germanic tribes. A resistivity survey of the area was carried out in 1980 by Anthonty Clark of the Ancient Monuments Laboratory for the programme by Arthur C Clarke entitled `This Mysterious World'. When the anolomalies were plotted they revealed a feature that has been identified as a cloak or skin thrown over the giant's left arm, this has been used as further evidence to identify the figure as Hercules. There is a lack of documentary evidence for the site pre-dating the mid 16th century. The figure was renovated in 1868 and 1887, and was given to the National Trust in 1920 by the Pitt-Rivers Family.
More information : (ST 66650167) The Giant (NR) (1)

a(28) THE CERNE GIANT (Plate 107) is a turf-cut figure on the
SW end of Giant Hill 1/4 m N of the church. The figure is
outlined by cuttings now about 2ft deep. It represents a nude
man (height of figure 180ft) 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 boldly represented as
is the phallus. The figure, according to Hutchins, had letters
or figures between the legs of doubtful significance and date.
The figure has been repaired and recut at various periods, a
general repair having taken place in 1887. Whether the
outstretched left arm originally carried a lion-skin or cloak
is now impossible to say; but the general resemblance of the
figure to that of a Roman Hercules is sufficient to suggest the
probability of a Romano-British origin. There is some evidence
that the traditional local name of the god was Helis or Helith.
(Gentleman's Magazine (1764), XXXIV; J Hutchins, History of
Dorset (1774); Sir Flinders Petrie, Hill Figures of England
(1926); Stuart Piggott, in Antiquity (1932), VI, and (1938),
XII; Morris Marples, White Horses and other Hill Figures
(1949)). (2,3)

The "Cerne Giant" (a) hill-figure is in a good state of
preservation, and under the care of the National Trust; (Due to
severe erosion of the turf around the monument, the perimeter
fence has recently been enlarged to enclose the hill-figure and
nearby earthwork (ST 60 SE 40 The public is requested to remain
outside the fence). (4)

Revised at 1:2500 on MSD.

Changes in the Giant iconography 1764-1980. (5)

The lack of documentary evidence concerning the Giant prior to the mid-c17th suggests either that it was cut in the post-Medieval period, or that it was not visible prior to the mid-C17th, the latter being the core. (6)

A resistivity survey of the Giant in 1980 recovered the outline of a probable lion-skin over the Giants' left arm which would almost entirely link the Giant with hercules. The survey indicated that Sir Flinders Petrie plan of the Giant during the First World War seems to be the most accurate. (7)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Ordnance Survey Map (Scale / Date)
Source details : OS 6" 1962
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 2
Source : An inventory of the historical monuments in Dorset. Vol. I : west
Source details :
Page(s) : 82
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 10
Source : White horses and other hill figures
Source details :
Page(s) : 159-179
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number :
Source : RCHME: Cerne Abbas Giant, Dorset
Source details :
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 3
Source : Aerial photograph
Source details : AP (NMR 9785/16/63)
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 4
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 GB 07-JUL-77
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 4a
Source : VIRTUAL CATALOGUE ENTRY TO SUPPORT NAR MIGRATION
Source details : National Trust Name plate
Page(s) :
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :
Source Number : 5
Source : Antiquity
Source details : LV Grinsell
Page(s) : 28-34
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 54, 1980
Source Number : 6
Source : Antiquity
Source details : JH Bettey
Page(s) : 118-21
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 55, 1981
Source Number : 7
Source : The Archaeological Journal
Source details : AJ Clark
Page(s) : 29-30
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 140, 1983
Source Number : 8
Source : Discovering hill figures
Source details :
Page(s) : 24-Jul
Figs. :
Plates : 25
Vol(s) : 12
Source Number : 9
Source : Gods and graven images: the chalk hill-figures of Britain
Source details :
Page(s) : 72-101
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) :

Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Roman
Display Date : Possibly cut in the Roman period
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Hill Figure
Evidence : Conjectural Evidence, Modified Surface
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Possibly cut in the medieval period
Monument End Date :
Monument Start Date :
Monument Type : Hill Figure
Evidence : Conjectural Evidence, Modified Surface
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : First documentary references mid-17th cy
Monument End Date : 1667
Monument Start Date : 1633
Monument Type : Hill Figure
Evidence : Documentary Evidence, Modified Surface
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Renovated 1868
Monument End Date : 1868
Monument Start Date : 1868
Monument Type : Hill Figure
Evidence : Modified Surface
Monument Period Name : Post Medieval
Display Date : Renovated 1887
Monument End Date : 1887
Monument Start Date : 1887
Monument Type : Hill Figure
Evidence : Modified Surface
Monument Period Name : 20th Century
Display Date : Change of ownership 1920
Monument End Date : 1920
Monument Start Date : 1920
Monument Type : Hill Figure
Evidence : Modified Surface

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : Scheduled Monument Legacy (County No.)
External Cross Reference Number : DO 27
External Cross Reference Notes :
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : ST 60 SE 39
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON ST 60 SE 39
Activity type : FIELD OBSERVATION (VISUAL ASSESSMENT)
Start Date : 1977-07-07
End Date : 1977-07-07
Associated Activities : Primary, CERNE GIANT
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1979-01-01
End Date : 1979-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CERNE GIANT
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1989-01-01
End Date : 1989-12-31
Associated Activities : Primary, CERNE GIANT
Activity type : GEOPHYSICAL SURVEY
Start Date : 1995-01-01
End Date : 1995-12-31