For Centuries, A (Nude) Mystery Giant Has Watched Over A British Village
In the hills of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, England, there is a 180-foot tall chalk figure called the Cerne Abbas Giant. It is one of many figures known as geoglyphs around England, but he stands apart as unique for a few reasons. First off, he is naked, and, uh, he is not afraid to show off. Once the shock of seeing the naked dude wears off, though, viewers think of bigger questions. When and why was the Giant made?
For centuries, there has only been speculation, but thanks to the wonders of modern science, experts can give a rough estimate of when the geoglyph, sometimes referred to as the “Rude Man” because … again, he is just letting it ALL hang out, was made.
Before using archaeology to approximate the creation of the Cerne Abbas Giant, all that scholars had to go on was rough guesses and tangential evidence. For example, the first known recorded reference to the Giant came from 1694. If the Giant were ancient as some believed, why had no one talked about it before? You would think that if an entire village got flashed by a giant every time they stepped outside, someone might have written something down.
A counter to this being evidence of anything, though, is that it would make sense that people just sort of accepted the Giant. Sure he’s a giant nude dude, but you’d just get used to him.
Another theory was that the Giant was a representation of a less-than-famous ancient deity named Helith. This theory comes because locals had referred to him as Helis before, but other evidence for this theory was basically nonexistent. Along with being tied to a specific deity, the well-endowed chalk man was thought to possibly be a symbol of fertility. Take a guess why.
Yet another theory, which puts the Giant in a completely different place in time, is that he is a representation of Hercules created by the Romans. The Cerne Abbas Giant is holding a club in his right hand (yes, a real club, get your minds out of the gutter), and Hercules is often depicted with a club. Evidence shows that there was once something else over the Giant’s left shoulder that has since faded away, and some believe this was a lion skin. This would also play into the depictions of Hercules.
What if the Giant wasn’t made by ancient inhabitants or Roman conquerors, though? One theory is that the Giant was made much more recently in the 17th century as a satire of Oliver Cromwell. There are statues in England that depict Cromwell heroically as Hercules, but an estate lord in Cerne Abbas was critical of the British leader. So, as a sort of parody of the celebration of Cromwell, Cerne Abbas showed him as a goofy, excessively phallic Hercules.
A counter to this theory is that satirical depictions of Oliver Cromwell did exist, but they all featured Cromwell’s notoriously wild hair. If they were going to make a giant figure of him, why would they leave it the most identifiable feature?
With basically every period within the past several thousand years has been considered, there was no agreed-upon theory for why the Giant exists. However, earlier this year, part of the Cerne Abbas Giant mystery was sort of put to bed. Archaeologists quite literally dug to the bottom of the figure to collect soil samples to give the Rude Man a more accurate birth date, or at the very least, a decent time frame. Studying the samples found that the figure was made sometime from 700 to 1100 A.D. This means that it was not prehistoric, Roman, or modern. Instead, it was probably made sometime in the late Saxon period.
This only answers part of the mystery, though. There is still no conclusive motive for the Giant’s creation. Plus, the status of the more risque parts of the Giant are still up for debate. Soil samples were not taken from the figure’s 26-foot-long manhood, so it is unknown if it was made at the same time as the rest of the Giant or if it was added later as a joke. Some believe he was originally drawn with pants!
For now, even with somewhat of a date known, the Cerne Abbas Giant remains a proudly naked mystery in the hills of Dorset.
Top Image: Pete Harlow/Wiki Commons