Cerne 8: Drawing the Sections

It’s Thursday, day 4, and I need to draw the sections before the soil samples are taken on Friday.

We have spent three days excavating the 4 trenches into the Cerne Abbas Giant and today Mike will return and assess what we have found and choose the places for samples.

Phil the Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) specialist would arrive on Friday and everything needed to be ready by then.

Outside, the air is damp. A light misty rain. I go in the garage and pick out a long thin metal fencing stake and look for a wide umbrella and find an old shower curtain…well it might work.

I’ve got used to the journey down now. Turning off the A303 at Compton Pauncefoot. What a great name! …and then the wiggle down through back roads guided round Sherborne via sat. nav. past the ruined castle and then down the A352.

I like the geology of the vernacular buildings, quite different in this part of Dorset, and then beyond Holnest…a lonely church in a field. Where did its village go? Some plague or something I suppose.

I turn off radio 4 and head up to the Giant with Mike. We look at the trenches. We agree that the depth of the deposits is completely unexpected. He is the soils man and will tell a story from their complexities, similarities and differences.

I let Mike know that Keith from Historic England will come out today. We have asked permission for a small amount of additional digging to possibly examine ‘the severed head’ and to fit the soil sample auger into a trench.

Pete, Carol and Nancy have some additional excavation to do to finish off their trenches so I start to draw D across the upper line of his outstretched arm.

I have brought up an A2 drawing board, the steel fencing stake and a bucket of tapes and tools.

These include a hammer, which I use to bang in the stake …downslope of the trench. The ground very slidey down there on the the wet.steep slope.

I bludgeon a 6 inch nail into the chalk slope in the trench and tie a string to it. I wind it out to the stake and rummage in my pencil case for the line level which I hang off the string until the bubble is dead centre and the string is level.

I will choose 1:10 as my drawing scale and sharpen a 6H pencil. I fix a tape measure beside the string for the horizontal readings and carry a hand tape for the verticals.

I am ready ….and a fine mist of rain falls. The shower curtain is hopeless…it drips more on the plastic drawing film than keep moisture off it. I stuff it back in the bucket. The film is ‘dimensionally stable’ …tracing paper would rip and warp in heat and moisture…but the film does not perform well on a day such as this ….and this is the only day to draw so it can’t be helped.

As a right-hander, I will do everything top left to bottom right so that my muddy wet hand will not wipe out everything as I draw it. If I make a mistake the rubber will create a blurred pencilly smudge. My hands are already cold.

I begin to draw…that bottom chunky chalk layer…how old is that?

Was it this layer that marked out the figure that the 18th century antiquarians got excited about.

After all those previous centuries of nobody bothering to mention the Giant (perhaps because he wasn’t there), suddenly, in the 1750s-70s, it was brought to the attention of the Society of Antiquaries in London and there was a flurry of activity and we get our first drawings of him.

Rev John Hutchins came to the village and interviewed people in their 80s and 90s who as boys had spoken to elderly villagers who confirmed that the Giant had been on Trendle Hill ‘beyond the memory of man’. He then spoke to the steward of the estate who said it had been created by Lord Holles’s servants which, if true, would date it to the mid 17th century.

Rev Hutchins published an edited version of a measure illustration of the Giant in his great work on the History of Dorset… but the complete drawing was published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1764.

File:Cerne-abbas-giant-1764.jpg - Wikipedia
The giant as measured and drawn and published in the Gentleman’s Magazine of 1764. There is a rougher drawing of 1763 but this is the best early representation of him. Note that his his navel is clear in this drawing.

By the afternoon the sky had dried and I was able to complete D and move on to Pete’s trench C.

The drawing looked very muddy but what the section profiles were showing was a chalk figure which had shifted downslope over time… and underneath the cutting for the bottom chunky chalk layer was something else… a clear terrace cut into the natural chalk slope.

Was there something much older here after all ?

7 thoughts on “Cerne 8: Drawing the Sections

  1. Speaking as an artist: I don’t think the navel is a navel; I think it’s the business end of his penis rendered in a circle to match the testicles…

    • Dear Felicity Yes, the spacing of the circles seems a fitting design particularly when compared and associated with his nipples. As an art work he is uniquely impressive. With best wishes Martin

      • Always admired his presence!
        On another subject: know anything about flint formation/know a geologist specialising in chalk? Written a simple explanation with the help of a chemistry teacher but need it to be checked before potentially adding it to an interpretation board … would appreciate a name!

  2. Martin,

    Could I get in touch please? Nearby there appears to be a big scatter of flint tools, probably revealed by the rainy winter. In farmer’s filed so coy of telling location publicly. Thanks

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