Based on the analysis of snail shells, the famous naked chalk giant may not be as old as previously thought. The 180-foot-tall club-wielding naked man – called Cerne Abbas Giant – was carved into a Dorset chalk hillside long ago and was regarded as a symbol of fertility.
New analysis conducted by the National Trust project has indicated that the giant isn’t prehistoric and may have only been created several centuries ago. Soil samples were gathered from the figure’s feet and elbow areas which contained microscopic land snail shells. What’s so interesting is that the snails didn’t show up in England until the 13th and 14th centuries. And two species of snails that were present in Britain during the Roman time period (27 BC until 476 AD) weren’t present in the samples. This indicates that the giant could have been created as early as the medieval time period (between the years 476 to 1453 AD) although the early 1600s is more probable.
Throughout the years, many theories have been circulating in regards to the origins of the Cerne Abbas Giant. Some people have compared it to the god that was depicted on a skillet handle in the nearby Hod Hill that dates back to between the years 10 and 51 AD.
Another theory was proposed by Georgian antiquarian and clergyman William Stukeley who suggested that the Cerne Abbas Giant represented the Roman god Hercules and that the figure was carved into the hill by the Romano-British people in the years following 43 AD.
A more recent theory was that the giant was carved in the 17th century by Lord Denzil Holles who, at that time, owned the site. He may have carved the figure to mock Oliver Cromwell (English general and statesman in the 1600s) with the figure’s club representing his enforcement and his genitals to make fun of his Puritanism.
Brian Edwards, who is a historian at the University of the West of England Bristol, has his own theory on what the giant symbolizes. He believes that it was created in reference to Anthony Ashley Cooper (third Earl of Shaftesbury) by the land owner at that time who was the Whig politician Thomas Freke.
Whatever the origins may be in regards to the Cerne Abbas Giant, experts are pretty sure that it was created much later than previously believed. More soil tests need to be conducted in order to know for sure the exact age of the chalk giant. The researchers are using a method called “optically stimulated luminescence” and it will “determine when mineral grains in soil were last exposed to sunlight,” explained Martin Papworth who is an archaeologist with the National Trust.
The results should be in by the end of this year. I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’m excited to find out exactly how old the naked chalk giant actually is. Several more pictures of the Cerne Abbas Giant can be seen here.