Uffington White Horse - how old?

An aerial view of the majestic Uffington White Horse © National Trust

An aerial view of the majestic Uffington White Horse

White Horse Hill is home to a number of intriguing ancient monuments including the 110 metre long White Horse itself.

This chalk figure seems to gallop across the chalk downland. Whilst it is best viewed from the air, this majestic form is something to behold from close up. It is about 3,000 years old, making it the oldest dated chalk figure in Great Britain.

Uffington White Horse is 110 metres long and 37 metres tall. It is not a solid figure; the front legs and one back leg are not joined to the rest of the outline, giving the sense of an abstract drawing. Many people who see it today comment that it could have been drawn in the 21st century.

We do know how it was constructed. It was excavated in 1952 by WF Grimes, who was helping to uncover the horse which was hidden during World War Two to confuse enemy pilots. He found out that the horse is in fact 3D and goes down about a metre deep. This means that great trenches were dug out in the hillside and backfilled with blocks of chalk. Further investigations during the 1990s by Oxford Archaeological Unit confirmed this thought.

One of the greatest mysteries surrounding the White Horse is how old it is. For many years it was dated to be around 2000 years old but there was no archaeological evidence of this.

During the excavations which occurred between 1989-1995, Oxford Archaeological Unit, now called Oxford Archaeology changed this by carrying out tests on soil taken from underneath the first chalk block in the trenches. The test looked at when the soil last saw sunlight. This technique is called Optical Stimulated Luminescence. New dates emerged aging the horse by about 1000 years to between 1400BC –600BC, averaging at 1000BC. The Iron Age horse became a late Bronze Age Horse.