Archaeology

‘Missing Detail’ From the Cerne Abbas Giant Story Revealed

The Cerne Abbas Giant, a crude, naked, male-giant figure, drawn on an English hillside with chalk, measuring a whopping 180 feet (55 meters) tall has obviously been an eternal source of fascination. Over the years, many tiny details have emerged, helping reveal more and more about this artistic perversion, a seemingly comical figure brandishing a disproportionately large club, along with a 36-foot (11-meter) long phallic erection on full display, near the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset.

Last year a key detail in unravelling the enigma of the Cerne Abbas Giant emerged. The figure was scientifically dated through the existence of snail shell remains in the soil. This dating conclusion put the Cerne Abbas Giant’s date of creation in the time frame of the Cerne Abbey at the base of the hill. Now this has led to previously unconsidered speculation about the relationship between the two constructions. So, what might the connection between the naked giant and the ancient abbey be?

After 12 months of scientific analysis, the National Trust has for the first time revealed the likely age of the Cerne Abbas Giant, Britain’s largest and perhaps best-known chalk figure. (National Trust)

After 12 months of scientific analysis, the National Trust has for the first time revealed the likely age of the Cerne Abbas Giant, Britain’s largest and perhaps best-known chalk figure. ( National Trust )

National Trust Says The Cerne Abbas Giant is 10th Century

Until recently, most questions, particularly the date of this figure, remained unanswered in a full scientific sense. The figure, also known as the Rude Man has been the subject of a few reports on Ancient Origins as well, where every development regarding his origins has been documented. Earlier last month, archaeologists, camera crews, and presenters from BBC’s Digging for Britain travelled to southwestern England to uncover the mystery of dating the Rude Man .

Earlier speculations pegged the date of the Cerne Abbas figure to be prehistoric or Roman times (43 AD – 410 AD), or perhaps the 17th century. However, a study by the UK National Trust last year, dated it to the medieval times, or the Late Saxon period, around the 10th century. This study baffled experts because the earliest known reference to the Rude Man was as late as 1694, meaning that inexplicably, this figurine had managed to escape everyone’s attention for almost 700 years!

Today, the giant phallus figure continues to attract all kinds of visitors. Couples believe that coming and sitting on it helps enhance fertility. And since the early 18th century the giant has become woven into the folklore and cultural history of the surrounding hills of Dorset.

The Abbot's Porch at Cerne Abbey. (Wilson44691 / CC0)

The Abbot’s Porch at Cerne Abbey. (Wilson44691 / CC0)

The Naked Eye: Alternative Theories About the Rude Man

Dr. Mike Allen, an environmental archaeologist, told the BBC documentary crew

“That’s one thing that archaeologists are normally very good at — saying why they’re there, what was happening and what date they are. Everyone seems to have been carried away with his nakedness and the member. No one had really talked about the obvious — the Abbey sitting behind us.”

Dr. Allen was referring to the fact that below the Giant once lay Cerne Abbey, a Benedictine monastery , founded in 987 AD. St. Eadwold of Cerne was a local holy man worshipped by the pilgrims of the region, who also provided patronage to the monastery. The real question thus remained: what was the connection between the naked figure and the monastery?

Martin Papworth, a National Trust archaeologist, explained, “Just right next to his outstretched hand is, in fact, the abbey, which was established at the same time.” Popular legend suggests that St. Eadwold lived as a hermit on a nearby hill after he planted his wooden staff on the ground there, and it miraculously grew into a tree. Perhaps the Giant’s club could be a staff sprouting leaves according to Mr. Papworth, keeping in mind the new medieval dating of the Rude Man.

There are other theories too, which seem to suggest that the Cerne Abbas Giant grew in opposition to the pious nature of the monastery. It could be interpreted as an act of rebellion and defiance to the monastery. Perhaps the locals drew this crude image as a form of protest against the monastery. One theory holds that that the Romans carved the Giant to represent the demigod Hercules, famous for his strength and sexual prowess, who was often portrayed holding a club .

But there are still unanswered questions. When the National Trust researchers flew drones over the Giant for their research work in the July of 2020, their findings hinted that the Giant’s phallus might have been recreated over the original chalking and added sometime around the 18th century, explaining how it remained shrouded in some form of secrecy for so long, despite its obviously outrageous nature. In depth research in the future is likely to reveal more about this mystery and one day soon we may learn the Cerne Abbas figure is ancient, but the penis is not . . .

Top image: National Trust archaeologists have finally determined the age of the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset, England using snail shells and the ancient Abbas Abbey “next door.” But questions remain.CSource: PeteHarlow / CC BY-SA 3.0

By Sahir Pandey


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