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The Cerne Giant


THE ‘Cerne Giant’, it is announced, will come under the auctioneer's hammer on June 16 next when the Abbey estate, Cerne Abbas, near Dorchester, Dorset, is to be sold in lots. The ‘Cerne Giant’ is one of a small group of remarkable and curious antiquities of Britain which were described by Sir Flinders Petrie some years ago in a special publication of the Royal Anthropological Institute. They are figures of considerable size cut in the turf on the chalk in outline. They are of unknown purpose and unknown age, though almost certainly some, if not all, are prehistoric. The best known, owing in part to its appearance in popular fiction, is the Berkshire ‘White horse’, but the ‘Wilmington giant’ in Sussex and the ‘Cerne Abbas giant’ are almost equally famous. The ‘Wilmington giant’ is on a slope so steep as almost to appear to be standing upright. The ‘Cerne giant’ is on Trendle or Giant's Hill, and is a huge ithyphallic figure, one hundred and eighty feet high, brandishing a. club, which is one hundred and twenty feet long and in breadth runs from seven to twenty-four feet. The head appears disproportionately small. The outline is cut in trenches two feet broad by one foot deep. The ‘Wilmington giant’ is rather larger, being approximately two hundred and forty feet high, with a head of twenty-one feet breadth. Various explanations of the giants' figures have been put forward. It has been suggested that the ‘Cerne giant’ is the figure of the Saxon god Heil, but in all probability it is much older, possibly Iron Age. The circle above the figure of the giant in which the Cerne maypole used to stand, together with the ithyphallic character of the figure, support the obvious attribution to a very ancient fertility cult. The remarkable character of the figure and its great interest for the light it throws on ancient British culture make it regrettable that the ground on which this figure is cut should be in private ownership and subject to such vicissitudes as that now impending.

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The Cerne Giant. Nature 139, 876 (1937).

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