In Britain, analyzes underway to determine the age of the enigmatic colossus of Cerne Abbas have just delivered their very first results: the famous giant figure carved in chalk probably dates back to the Middle Ages.
228 meters of linear development under the sky! Naked, erect, a club in his hand … The giant of Cerne Abbas, in the United Kingdom, lets nothing hide his anatomy! But since when has its effigy spread over the chalky hills of Dorset in the south of England? This is the question posed by a team of archaeologists from the University of Gloucester, who, after having started a series of samples to try to date them from April 2020, have just obtained their first results. And the giant does not go back to prehistoric times, as some people hoped!
For centuries, this character has indeed mystified the curious. Nobody really knew since when the 55 m long colossus stretched on the steep hillsides which dominate the village of Cerne Abbas. The land on which it is deployed belongs to the National Trust, a heritage organization, which in 1920 received this land from the hands of a famous family of landowners. Since then, volunteers regularly watch over its maintenance, as in 2019 when 17 tonnes of chalk were brought back to caulk its layout and restore its luster.
Celtic deity? Realization of Roman, Saxon, medieval times? Kidding joke? The questions were indeed numerous, concerning him. The naked giant has only been known in the texts since 1690. In an attempt to unravel the mystery, the National Trust – which wanted to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its acquisition – joined forces with the University of Gloucester to proceed at its dating.
Professor Philip Toms, an archaeologist in the Department of Environmental Sciences, first used the so-called OSL dating method (optically simulated luminescence). This technique applies to minerals and measures the time that has elapsed since they were last exposed to sunlight. To do this, he made incisions at different points on the giant figure to take a dozen soil samples in-depth, in order to submit them to a battery of tests and find out when they were buried.
„These dates are still pending, due to delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of universities and laboratories,“ explained archaeologist Mike Allen, an environmental evolution specialist, and coordinator of this research.
On the other hand, it is from the analysis of microscopic shells of land snails (2mm) present in the soil that the new results came. The latter indeed suggest that the chalk giant would probably go back to the Middle Ages. „These snails accidentally arrived in Britain during the 13th-14th century, presumably in straw or hay used to package goods from the mainland,“ said Mike Allen. „Certain species of snails indeed live in dark woods, others in tall grasses, grazed grasses, or some in plowed soils … Their analysis is an excellent means of understanding the history of the evolution of l use of land at archaeological sites. „