The Uffington White Horse

Is this Britain's oldest hill figure? Evidence suggests this bizarre, stylised horse has been a feature of the British landscape for up to 3000 years.

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The Uffington White Horse

The Uffington White Horse

Perhaps alone among all of England's hill figures, the Uffington White Horse is undoubtedly of ancient origins. The highly-stylised and, frankly, bizarre looking figure is a colossal 374 feet in length and formed from trenches filled with chalk.

So stylised is the horse, in fact, that even its identity as a horse is disputed - some claiming that the figure is actually that of a cat or long-forgotten mythical creature. Despite this modern controversy, the figure has been colloquially known as a horse since the middle ages - the earliest known reference in the early 11th century cartulary of Abingdon Abbey refers to "mons albi equi" ("white horse hill").

Testing of the soil beneath the trenches during the 1990s proved that the horse was originally cut between 1200 and 800 B.C - thus making it a unique relic of the bronze age and far greater in age than any other known hill figure.

Of course, with its origins dating back to pre-history, its original purpose or meaning is lost to us. The usual suspects - religious symbolism or purpose - are the natural suspects. It is known that the Celts in Gaul worshipped a horse-god called Epona. It is also known that on this side of the channel, there was a close equivalent known as Rhiannon. Given those facts, many assume that the horse is related to this cult.

Other gods - such as Belenus - were depicted being pulled by horses in a chariot, so some speculate that this horse is perhaps a remnant of something depicting such a figure.

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Author: Ian Freud   |  Last updated: 10th March 2015 | © Weird Island 2010-2020
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