Cerne Abbas: Was the giant naked man an artistic act of defiance aimed at monks?

New evidence suggests that the Cerne Abbas giant is much older than previously thought — and that its creation might have been 'a big two fingers' aimed at the Benedictine monks who had recently established an abbey.

Standing 40m tall, and brandishing not one but two impressive tools, the Cerne Abbas giant is arguably the most famous chalk carving on the face of the planet.  It’s an incredible feat of folk art in the unlikeliest of settings: the giant lies on high quality chalk grassland, which hosts range of wildflowers including orchids, thyme, marjoram and small scabious, which attract butterflies including the Marsh Fritillary and Duke of Burgundy. Below, in the valley, is the village of Cerne Abbas itself, one of the prettiest villages in the country.

We can all agree on those facts; beyond that, however, debate has long raged about when and why the Giant was made.

The battling historians have a fresh suggestion to mull over, as a new study has found that the Cerne Abbas Giant is much older than we thought—and ‘everyone was wrong,’ says geoarchaeologist Mike Allen.

The first written mention of the giant dates back to 1694, but many people have theorised that it was far older than that. Few would have believed it to be as old as suggested by Mike’s research, however: he has discovered that it was most likely created in the 10th century and then forgotten for hundreds of years before his earliest written mention —  probably because, as findings show, the hillside was covered in long grass.

The Cerne Abbas giant being re-chalked

The Cerne Abbas giant being re-chalked in 2019. Credit: John Millar/National Trust Images.

Excavations into the giant’s feet and elbows dated the oldest chalk to between AD650 and 1310 and the soil to AD700 to 1100, but archaeological consultant Alison Sheridan believes the founding of a Benedictine monastery at Cerne Abbas in the late 10th century brings the final clue.

‘It would almost seem to be an act of resistance by local people to create this fantastically rude pagan image on the hillside,’ she says, adding that, ‘It’s like a big two fingers to the abbey.’

And not just two fingers either, Alison…

The Cerne Abbas giant being re-chalked

The Cerne Abbas giant being re-chalked. ©John Millar/National Trust Images


Cerne Abbas Giant to be re-chalked to former glory

Dorset's giant chalk figure is undergoing a two-week makeover to preserve it for future generations.