Dating the Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas chalk giant after being re-chalked in September 2019

While the Cerne Abbas Giant scrubs up well after a two-week clean-up operation, dating him is still a challenge. Not only do you have to pay special attention to his elbows and feet, but he'll also keep you guessing about his age.

We are of course talking about a serious archaeological project to determine how old this mysterious giant is.

For the first time we will attempt to scientifically establish the true age of the mysterious chalk figure, which has loomed large on a Dorset hillside since at least the 17th century, if not longer. Now, a century after it was gifted, by the Pitt-Rivers family in 1920, we're working with the University of Gloucestershire to find out when the figure was first hewn into the chalk landscape. 

Our archaeologists have excavated small trenches to allow soil samples to be taken from the giant’s elbows and feet. In the coming weeks, these samples will be analysed using the Optically Stimulated Luminescence technique, which determines when mineral grains in the soil were last exposed to sunlight. We should have the results later this summer. 

During the excavations, we also took drone footage to create a laser image of the giant which, once processed and uploaded to our website, will allow you to take a virtual tour of the landmark. You can see the giant from nearby viewpoints but to prevent erosion and conserve the site is not publicly accessible.

Volunteers helping to re-chalk the Cerne Abbas Giant
Volunteers helping to rechalk the Cerne Abbas Giant
Volunteers helping to re-chalk the Cerne Abbas Giant
A volunteer working on the rechalking of the Cerne Giant

A figure of mystery and intrigue

The origins and purpose of the 55m giant remain a mystery. Some say he's an ancient spirituality symbol, while local folklore has long held him to be a fertility aid. Others have noted his likeness to Greco-Roman hero Hercules or believe he's a caricature of Oliver Cromwell.

Video

Caring for Britain's naughtiest chalk figure

Watch our team of volunteers re-chalk the Cerne Abbas giant, which is now in the hundredth year of our care.

How we're looking after precious landscapes