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Some Ancient and Curious Landmarks

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Just over a hundred years ago Sir Walter Scott wrote to one of his sons, ''I am glad to see you observe objects of interest and curiosity, because otherwise a man may travel over the universe without acquiring any more knowledge than his horse does."

It is but a step from the "barrow" - which may be but a few feet high--to the huge artificial mounds such as Silbury Hill in Wiltshire or the "Moat of Ballyloughloe" in Ireland-those "wild enormities of ancient magnanimity" (to steal a fine phrase from Sir Thomas Browne)-which were heaped on the bones or ashes of the heroes of a thousand generations ago. Equally mysterious, if a little nearer to the horizon of history, are the strange monumental designs-a White Horse, a Cross, a weird Giant- which arrest the glance of the traveller as he crosses the chalk-lands that were the nurseries of ancient races long before the Roman galleys beat their way across the narrow seas to plant a fresh civilization where Stonehenge was already an ancient monument. "Hill-side" figures, we may call them; the most striking of our undated antiquities. Yet it is j doubtful if they have received the attention they deserve at the hands of the archaeologist. Five or six of a total of twenty-five are usually accepted as being the genuine remains of prehistoric eras, though the balance sways, now and then, in the hand of authority-for modern research moves more warily than did the eager antiquarianism of an earlier day. While some of the secrets of far-off lands are being wrested from earth and stone, these curious mysteries of our own land have lain neglected by the trained archaeologist.

Putting aside twenty "ancient figures" - the great majority of which can be proved to be of recent or comparatively modern date-we have five which demand attention and respect as probable heirs of antiquity. These are "The Long Man," Wilmington, Sussex; "The Giant," Cerne Abbas, Dorset; "The White Horse," Uffington, Berks; and two "Crosses," in Buckinghamshire, one at Whiteleaf, and one at Bledlow. These are all chalk figures formed by cutting away the turf from the surface of the ground, thus leaving the outlines of "man" or "giant," or, in the case of the White Horse, a body-figure in solid white chalk.

The figure of the Long Man at Wilmington stands on the north side of the South Down Ridge, half a mile south of Wilmington Church. The hill rises here to about 500 feet, and the figure is about half-way up; the figure is placed in the hollow of a natural bay, and it is perceptible that the ground has been flattened over the area, the clearance-heaps apparently being thrown into a gully at the side. The figure is full-face, the arms half-extended; each hand holds a "staff." On the height above the head is a group of tumuli, and an ancient track comes up across the hill. The latter seems to have no connexion with the figure. With regard to the "staves," it may be remarked that the length of them is equal to double the distance between them.

Innumerable suggestions have been advanced as to the real significance of this figure. Nearly every European mythology has been drawn on; the figure "is opening the gates of the Underworld," or he is "opening the gates of heaven "; or there is some relationship between the position of the sun and the staves. It is well known how astronomical-mythology is supposed-rightly or wrongly-to be the inspirational motive of many prehistoric buildings, the Pyramids being a case in point. Sir Flinders Petrie says: "The fixed condition of the locality.... makes it impossible to suppose any adjustment to a given date, and all we can say is that the figure is placed in a selected position, so that some of the observations that might be chosen would serve to mark a festival date."

As the Long Man is one of a group of chalk down figures, it will be well to glance at his fellows before setting forth certain conclusions -or theories - arrived at; before parting with this figure, however, it should be stated that in 1874 it was renovated under the superintendence of the Rev. W. Le St. Croix on behalf of the Sussex Archaeological Society. The outline was cleared, and filled in with pale yellow bricks and cement, to prevent it from being overgrown or decayed. The site was presented, by the Duke of Devonshire, to the Sussex Archaeological Trust in 1926.

One quarter of a mile north of the church of Cerne Abbas, in Dorset, stands the Giant. The base of the figure is about fifty feet over the plain, and it slopes up about 200 feet, or 100 feet vertically. The site of the figure was enclosed with iron hurdles by the late General Pitt-Rivers, and his son has presented it to the National Trust. The eyebrows of this figure are hollows; the eyes are circular trenches; the nose is slightly outlined; the mouth is a hollow. The work differs in a marked degree from that of the Long Man; the details of the body are shown; the head is of natural proportion; the elbows are vaguely curved instead of being pointed; the feet are definitely placed sideways; and there is a suggestion of motion in the knees. There is local evidence of some interest in connexion with this "giant," for Dr. Colley Marsh recorded, in 1901, that Robert Childs, "the present sexton," well remembered a maypole. "It was made every year from a fir bole, and was raised in the night. It was erected in the ring just above the Giant. It was decorated, and the villagers went up the hill and danced round the pole on the First of May."

There is, above the Giant and some seventy feet away, a double enclosure. Here, there is evidence that this enclosure was devoted to ceremonies of a religious character, a primitive form being pole-worship, as we know. Walter of Coventry, writing in the thirteenth century, says that Cerne was "in Dorsetensi pago... in quo pago olim colebantur deus Helith" (in the County of Dorset... in which county the god Helith used, once, to be worshipped) - and perhaps this preserves the early name of the "giant." It is said that a well near at hand was visited by S. Augustine, and that it cured many diseases. The stream from it now flows through the town, a large graveyard lying over the higher part of the ground. Directly north of the well is the Giant, with the enclosure of the maypole above his head. Farther back along the ridge is a tumulus, and a bank with curved ends, perhaps to isolate the religious enclosure. Farther west there is strong evidence of old flint-pits, deep shafts or pits being sunk. This gives a probable age for this group of banks, when flint work was so important that pits were sunk to obtain a good supply - the Neolithic Age - say, 8000 years b.c. "The Giant" (says Sir Flinders Petrie) " must in that case be at least as old as the beginning of the Bronze Age,"that is to say, about 2000 b.c. Subsidiary but important evidence which he adduces is the lay-out of axial or" sighting roads apparently made to lead directly to the Giant. The Berkshire White Horse at Urfington is another familiar figure, cut "solid" in the chalk, high up on the escarpment, three-quarters of a mile south-south-east of Woolstone Church. The figure is 500 feet above the plain, slightly sloping up toward the head. The cliff faces to the west-north-west. There is ample record of the care that has been devoted to this historic figure; it was said to have been cleaned every seven years, and there are records of at least thirteen "scourings" in 102 years down to 1857. Since then the festival decayed, and it has only been cleaned in 1884 during recent times. It appears that in former times the neck was thicker, the jaws much wider, the foremost leg came nearer to the next, and the hind legs and tail differed somewhat from their present state.

The Horse is placed at the top of a very steep gulch in the face of the Down. This remarkable form of the chalk was probably due to a waterfall and ravine caused by drainage of the chalk plateau in its early denudation. There is 100 feet fall in 140 horizontal, and from the Horse to the foot of the gulch is 300 feet in 600, or over 24 degrees. The flank of the rising ground has been much cut up artificially, and seven trenches have been cut back, but whether the ridges between them are natural, or piled earth, cannot be settled without excavation. Narrow banks run above the tongue of the field, nearer to the Horse; there are two banks on the north side. So steep is the slope that the purpose of these banks must be ceremonial rather than agricultural. North of all the other works is Dragon Hill-cut flat on the top-a natural hillock. The whole of these "works" requires careful examination.

The Horse is mentioned in a cartulary-the official record-of Abingdon Abbey in 1084, or earlier; and again in 1190, naming the "ascent to the White Horse." These are the earliest of several references to the name. The rolling of a cheese down the hill was an important part of the festival-the field into which it was rolled being called the Manger. Springs of water rise below, a link with the Cerne Giant. The game, or ceremony, of the cheese is also observed at Cooper's Hill, near Cranham, in Gloucestershire, and a Whit-Monday festival is held, with maypole observances. The leader of the games wears a white loose garment and a tall hat decked with floating ribbons. Cooper's Hill, it may be remarked, is a large "camp."

this class of landmarks there remain the two Crosses, of Whiteleaf and of Bledlow. The former is on a very steep escarpment, facing west, one mile east-north-east of Princes Risborough church; both crosses are approximately fifty feet high. Above Whiteleaf Cross is a barrow. Three and three-quarter miles west-south-west lies Bledlow Cross, more regular than the Whiteleaf; the demarkation of either is not measurable to exactness, the turf edge being ill-defined.

The regularity of Bledlow Cross suggests that some definite measure was used: and the arms are plainly twice the length of their cross-measure. The lengths and widths of the arms of the two Crosses are similar.

Basing his conclusions upon extremely careful measurements, Sir Flinders Petrie makes certain interesting suggestions. He thinks that there is a possibility of a common measure applicable to the Crosses, the Long Man, and Stonehenge. Generally, he suggests, (a) that the figures may be related, though not all made by the same people in the same age; (b) that it seems impossible that nude figures should have been cut in the medieval age, nor is it more likely in Danish or Saxon times, as the immigrants were from cold countries and were always well clad; (c) .there is no sign of Romano-British influence, and no parallels to these figures among Gaulish or Celtic deities, or on British coinage. (He dismisses the possible link with the "horse" found on British coinage on the score that the "British" horse is always "a tubby beast," and never at a "long gallop" like the Uffington Horse.) (d) The Crosses are not necessarily "Christian" - "the Greek Cross is not used in Western Christianity"; the "Greek Cross" is known to have been a sacred object during the Bronze Age in Crete-so its presence here is as likely to be pre-Christian as not.

Accepting the Bronze Age for the field-settlement west of Cerne; and that a road as old as the Bronze Age was laid out leading to the Giant; and seeing that there is no parallel to such figures in Celtic mythology, we conclude that the figures are presumably of the Bronze Age. But if so, to what source can we look? Here comes the idea of the maypole-a cult widely spread in early times through Germany and the East. "To grant a pole to a community in Egypt (sixth dynasty) was to establish an independent religious centre."

Again, in India, "All kings plant a pole for the celebration of Indra's worship." That the Bronze workers came from the Rhone district seems to be accepted, and all along the line of the Rhine and Danube to the Euxine the worship of Mithra is found-as early as 1200 b.c. "If these had come westward with the Bronze migration, Varuna might be the origin of the Wilmington figure, which has already been supposed to be opening the gates of heaven; it looks to the north, the region of Varuna; the figure was in shadow at sunrise and setting during ten months of the year, and Varuna was the god of the ten months of gestation. Lehman strongly holds the pre -Roman introduction of Eastern deities along the Rhine." A parallel might be adduced with a figure mentioned by Mr. Krishneingar - a figure sixty feet high drawn on the ground, with white outline, and filled in with red; the attitude is like that of the Cerne Giant, but it bears sword and shield. "All we can say at present is that the way lies open historically to a connexion between the Aryan gods and the West during the Bronze Age... Half the difficulty of research is to know what to recognize, and how it can be applied."

Thus, taking these chalk figures as a group, the latest opinion as to their origin, individual or relative, leaves the problem open. The figures may have no link-or but the slightest-between themselves.

There are other "Horses": at Westbury, Wilts; Calne (Cherhill), cut in 1780; Marl-borough, 1804; Alton Barnes, 1812; Winterbourne Bassett, 1835; Wootton Bassett, 1864; Devizes, 1845 (vanished); Pewsey, modern, vanished; a "Red Horse" at Tysoe, Warwickshire (1461?); one, with George III riding, at Osmington, Dorset; two in Yorkshire- Northwaite (modern), and Thirsk, cut in 1857; andone in Sussex, in the Cuckmere Valley (modern). There is a "Dragon" on the rifle butts, Canterbury, Kent-recent; a War Memorial "Cross" between Maidstone and Chilham (1920); a "Horse" (?) on Dartmoor, bare granite, accidentally cleared; a "Stag" (?) east of Aberystwith; another "Horse," Mormond, Aberdeenshire, cut 1870, and a "Stag" at Mormond, cut 1870; and on Plymouth Hoe there used to be "two Giants holding clubs" - probably ancient, but now destroyed.

We have been dealing up to now with figures cut on natural rock or soil, and it is obvious that excavation may, or may not, have important evidence to reveal. There may be nothing hidden because there was nothing to hide; "the earth hath bubbles, as the water has." If we were to include ancient "barrows" among "landmarks" - and, in one sense, some are sufficiently striking to arrest the attention of any observant traveller across Britain-the task would be well-nigh endless. Nevertheless, there are one or two objects of huge size which fall into this class of monument-they may be sepulchral, or they may have been ceremonial-which merit attention as curiosities of the work of man, or excite speculation as to the race of mankind which built them and wonder as to the creeds or superstitions they held sacred.

All "barrows" are, of course, "artificial"; but so thoroughly have hundreds-perhaps thousands-become part of the common soil, that man, with his plough, has unceremoniously levelled what was raised in pious commemoration above the smooth level of ancient acres.

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Pictures for Some Ancient and Curious Landmarks


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