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Uncovering the mystery of Dorset's Cerne Giant

Date:
March 25, 2024
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
For centuries, the Cerne Giant, a figure carved into a hillside in Dorset, has fascinated locals and visitors to the area. A new paper proposes that the Cerne Giant can in fact be dated to the early Middle Ages, and, as a result, its cultural context and significance more clearly understood.
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For centuries, the Cerne Giant, a figure carved into a hillside in Dorset depicting a nude man carrying a club and stretching some 180 feet high, has fascinated locals and visitors to the area. The history of the giant, however, and in particular, its age, has long been a mystery. A new paper in Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies proposes that the Cerne Giant can in fact be dated to the early Middle Ages, and, as a result, its cultural context and significance more clearly understood.

"The Cerne Giant in its Early Medieval Context," by authors Thomas Morcom and Helen Gittos, acknowledges that previous attempts to date the giant placed its creation either sometime in prehistory or in the early modern period. Using a technique called optically stimulated luminescence, researchers for the National Trust theorize that the hillside monument was actually constructed in the period between 700 and 1100 A.D, and potentially used as a mustering site for West Saxon armies.

This dating breakthrough also sheds new light on various historical interpretations of the Cerne Giant's identity. Many scholars had posited that the giant was modeled on the myth of Hercules, and although, as the authors write, "[a]t first glance, an early medieval date seems odd for a figure which looks like the classical god Hercules," there was in fact a swell of interest in the Greek hero during the ninth century, lending credence to this hypothesis.

Another popular theory regarding the inspiration for the giant was its basis on a Saint Eadwold. The authors propose that the residents of a Benedictine monastery, built in Cerne in the late tenth century, actively propagated this idea, redirecting interest in the giant away from Greek affiliations and towards Christian ones.

One final persona bestowed upon the giant was that of a pagan god called Helith. The authors of the Speculum paper write that this identification was a mistaken one, the result of a misreading, in the thirteenth century, of an account of the giant written in Latin.

The new findings concerning the Cerne Giant's age and history make greater sense of this string of theories regarding its identity. Ultimately, as the authors write, this complicated biography is all "part of the history of the giant and what continues to attract so many people to him."


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Materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Thomas Morcom, Helen Gittos. The Cerne Giant in Its Early Medieval Context. Speculum, 2024; 99 (1): 1 DOI: 10.1086/727992

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Uncovering the mystery of Dorset's Cerne Giant." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 March 2024. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/03/240325135719.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2024, March 25). Uncovering the mystery of Dorset's Cerne Giant. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/03/240325135719.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Uncovering the mystery of Dorset's Cerne Giant." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/03/240325135719.htm (accessed April 24, 2024).

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