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Landscape Mysteries - Programme 2: Figures In The Chalk

Updated Monday 31st October 2005

Aubrey Manning investigates the enormous chalk figures carved into hillsides in Southern England.

Chalk horse Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

The enormous chalk figures which are scattered through much of the landscape of southern England represent a puzzle. While the origins of some are well known, others are shrouded in mystery. In an attempt to discover the truth about who cut them, and why, Aubrey sets out to explore the history of the chalk landscape through thousands of years of human settlement.

Aubrey begins at the huge White Horse of Uffington, in Oxfordshire, and learns that it was recently shown to be pre-historic - dating to the late Bronze Age. He then travels to Sussex, to the Long Man of Wilmington, which many believe could also be ancient, and which archaeologists are now trying to date using the same technique used at Uffington. They’re looking for layers of chalk fragments that could have been washed down during construction, and dating the soil just underneath by a process called Optically Stimulated Luminescence.

Aubrey realises that the attraction of the chalk for people in pre-history lay in the bands of flint it contains. Flint axes would have allowed ancient people to clear the forests that once covered the downs.

Aubery concludes they cut the White Horse of Uffington because of the religious and military importance that the horse was acquiring at that time. But what about other figures like the Cerne Abbas Giant – is it an ancient fertility symbol? Aubrey finds that the evidence suggests instead that it’s a cartoon of Oliver Cromwell, dating to the mid 17th Century.

In fact it seems that the smooth grassy slopes created by the early people who cleared the trees created an ideal surface for carving figures – but almost all were cut much later.

The programme will reveal conclusive evidence about the Long Man of Wilmington - tune in for the unravelling of this particular Landscape Mystery.

 

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