Cerne Abbas Giant - History and Facts | History Hit

Cerne Abbas Giant

Dorset, England, United Kingdom

About Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant is a giant naked figure sculpted into chalk hillside in Dorset, often associated with fertility.

History of the Cerne Abbas Giant

Hill glyphs (also known as geoglyphs) are found across the UK: some date back as far as the Iron Age, with other being created as recently as the 19th century. Recent sediment analysis suggests the Cerne Abbas Giant dates back to the late Saxon period, sometime in the 10th century. As with all chalk figures, they must be looked after continually or they risk disappearing into the hillside

Its existence was first recorded in the 17th century, and in the 18th century, drawings were made and distributed. The figure has long been associated with fertility, and couples struggling to conceive used to sit on the giant’s large erect penis for good luck. In the 20th century, the eccentric 6th Marquess of Bath and his wife paid the giant a visit after they struggled to have a child. 10 months later, a daughter, named Silvy Cerne was born.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, theories were put forward as to who created the giant and what he represented, ranging from obscure Pagan figures to a Roman version of Hercules, a schoolboy prank to an insult directed at Oliver Cromwell. Precisely who carved the Cerne Abbas Giant or why remains unclear: a historical mystery we will never know the answer to, but many of the more outrageous theories have been shelved by this new discovery.

Today, the giant remains a centre for celebrations – particularly on May Day, when Morris dancers gather for dawn every year.

The Cerne Abbas Giant today

The site is cared for and run by the National Trust: the Giants View car park has an excellent viewpoint if you want to see the whole landscape. It’s also not far to walk up to the giant’s feet if you prefer to view from this angle.

The chalk is replaced roughly every 10 years by volunteers and NT rangers: the more the landscape is disturbed, the more often it has to be replaced. To this ends, it’s important to remember not to get too close when visiting!

The Cerne Abbas Giant hit headlines in May 2021 following the surprising revelation that he was actually created in the Medieval period, rather than being ancient or 17th century, as previously theorised, generating a renewed interest in  the giant’s mysterious origins.

It's not often a discovery shocks archaeologists, but the revelation that the Cerne Abbas Giant could've been created in the late Saxon period has surprised many. In this episode Cat Jarman speaks with the person who was in charge of dating the 180 ft giant with the 30 ft erect penis, Martin Papworth from the National Trust. Find out how they went about testing the Dorset landmark, why so many people assumed it was created in the 17th century, and what challenges popped up during the project.
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Getting to the Cerne Abbas Giant

The village of Cerne Abbas is in Dorset, about 15 minutes north of Dorchester via the A352. It’s a short walk from the village to the giant via footpaths. There’s ample parking on laybys by the A352 (free) or along Duck Street / Kettlebridge Lane.

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