Cerne 3: Deciding

I had posed the question about the potential… for dating the Giant, while the rechalking was going on in late August.

The rechalking of August 2019.

National Trust rangers Michael and Natalie had organised the work and sent out a call to NT staff and volunteers to assist in the project… and many came to their assistance from all over the South West.

Why wouldn’t you want to spend a day repairing the chalk outline of a 55m tall naked man?

8m ! How could anyone compete with that?

With many others I spent a day scraping away the soil and vegetation from his fading outline. My bit was his outstretched arm…ready for the new chalk to be pounded into position.

Quite a view from the roadside lay-by….watching all the re-chalkers like ants scurrying over the Giant

I hadn’t been to see him since the 1990s… when there were discussions on rebuilding his nose. At that time, there had been some geophysics to see if he had once had the outline of a cloak over his arm….like Hercules.

After this, there was a proposal for dating him ..which had led, in 1998, to a project design produced by Oxford Archaeology.

Oxford had used optically stimulated luminescence to show that the National Trust Uffington White Horse, in Oxfordshire, originated in the Late Bronze Age-Early Iron Age (1380-550BC). The Cerne Giant was the obvious next chalk figure to date..but…there was no money and the project design remained in the filing cabinet.

Anyway, July 2020 would mark 100 years since the Cerne Giant was given to the National Trust by the Pitt-Rivers family. A celebration was planned for the Cerne Abbas Village Hall Wouldn’t it be great to mark the occasion with an announcement saying how old he was.

Not everyone was in favour. The Giant is an enigma.. a mystery to place your own interpretation on… something not to be solved with science..

But we are archaeologists after all.. helping to solve mysteries is our thing.

So on a clear day in September 2019, after heavy rain, environmental archaeologist Mike and I climbed the stile and inspected the figure. Mike was fascinated…the heavy rain had hit the newly chalked legs and run down the steep hill slope creating a mini river valley and delta effect.

The heavy rain had worn valleys into the new chalk and overspilled down the slope. This had happened many times in the past to build up terraces for the lateral parts of the chalk figure, the feet and elbows.

The water had run quickly down the leg, cutting a ‘V’-shape and rolling mini boulders of chalk until reaching the feet…where it slowed down and deposited fine chalky silt against the sole of each foot. In fact it had overspilled and trailed down the hill slope on both sides of the feet.

A rabbit had hopped into the silt and left a paw mark there.

This process has been going on for generations….which is why the feet had built up and the soles of the Giant were now half a metre higher than the hill slope. His elbows were the same…places where sediments collected and built up.

We backtracked to Kettle Bridge and walked beside the River Cerne into the village.

Cerne Abbas village is a great place, full on historic buildings and several pubs. We sat in the garden of one..in the late summer sun….eating fish and chips, drinking beer and hatching a plan.

Four small trenches across the silt build-up points at elbows and feet. These spots had the deepest sediments and best potential.

Mike would organise the science (OSL had progressed and had become more precise since 1998) and work out costs ..and I would ask for scheduled monument consent and for money, in centenary year, and get resources and a team together.

And so it came to pass…

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