Saturday, September 9, 2017


Uffington White Horse, England.
Photograph Wikipedia,
Public Domain.

One uncommon type of geoglyph is known as a chalk figure. These are found in few locations because they can only be created under special conditions. In southeastern England areas where the topsoil overlays chalk or white limestone they are most common, and are primarily created by cutting away the layer of vegetation and topsoil on a hillside to expose the white rock underneath.

The oldest known chalk figure is the Uffington Horse in the county of Oxfordshire. "Documents as early as the eleventh century refer to the "White Horse Hill" at Uffington ("mons albi equi"), and archaeological work has dated the Uffington White Horse to the Bronze Age." (Wikipedia)

Measuring 110 meters long, it is archaeologically dated to the Late Bronze or Iron Age at 1380-550 B.C. Many archaeologists believe that it was originally created as a sign of ownership of the area by a local group, although University of Southampton archaeologist Joshua Pollard disagrees. "Both the form and the setting of the site led Pollard to
conclude that the White Horse was originally created as a depiction of a "solar horse," a creature found in the mythology of many ancient Indo-European cultures. These people believed that the sun either rode a horse or was drawn by one in a chariot across the sky." (Powell 2017:9)

The secret to its longevity is that local people have maintained the figure. "Over time, though its original purpose was lost, local people have maintained a connection with the White Horse that ensured its continued existence. "If it weren't maintained, the White Horse would be overgrown and disappear in about 20 years," says Andrew Foley, a ranger with the National Trust, which oversees the site. Historical records indicate the local community has long geld regular festivals devoted to maintaining the site. In 1854, some 30,000 people attended. Now, each summer, a few hundred local volunteers week the white horse and then crush fresh chalk on top of it so that it keeps the same brilliant white appearance it has had for 3,000 years." (Powell 2017:10)

This may be the origin of the custom of many college towns in the United States of creating a giant letter on a hillside with rocks and annually repainting it white with the labor of fraternity pledges, the football team, or freshman volunteers. On October 1, 2016, I posted Hillside Initials As Modern Geoglyphs about a number of these modern geoglyphs.

I think that too much attention is paid to the form of the Uffington Horse which is admittedly quite abstract. Given an age of 3,397-2,567 years, the Uffington Horse must have been renewed many hundreds of times, with no precise measuring tools, and only volunteer labor. If shapes and lines moved only a fraction of an inch during each renewal the original shape must have been altered considerably by now, so speculating based upon its appearance is bound to be unproductive. Better we appreciate it for what it is, a special example of people's relationship with their land, and caring for its historical features.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet in a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.


Powell, Eric A.,

2017 White Horse Of The Sun, Archaeology Magazine, Vol. 70, No. 5., September/October 2017, p. 9-10.

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