Uffington White Horse

The Uffington White Horse figure, located 1.5 miles south of the village of Uffington on the Berkshire Downs. This unique stylized representation of a horse consists of a long, sleek back, thin disjointed legs, a streaming tail, and a bird-like beaked head. The mysterious Uffington White Horse in Berkshire, recently redated and shown to be even older than its previously assigned ancient pre-Roman, Iron Age date. Best views of the figure are obtained from the air, or from directly across the Vale, particularly around the villages of Great Coxwell, Longcot and Fernham. The site is owned and managed by the National Trust. Written records date back to the 12th Century but do not give proof of its exact age or why it was created. It used to be thought that the figure was constructed by the Saxons to celebrate a victorious battle of King Alfred's. This view is now mainly discredited. Who carved them? And how have the oldest examples survived for perhaps thousands of years?

The elegant creature almost melts into a landscape rich in prehistoric sites. The horse is situated on a steep escarpment, close to the Late Bronze Age (c. seventh century B.C.) hillfort of Uffington Castle and below a long-distance Neolithic track called the Ridgeway. The Uffington Horse is also surrounded by Neolithic and Bronze Age burial mounds. It is only 1 mile from the Neolithic chambered long barrow of Wayland's Smithy, and not far from the Bronze Age cemetery of Lambourn Seven Barrows. The carving has been placed in such a way as to make it extremely difficult to see from close quarters, and, as with many geoglyphs, it is best appreciated from the air. Nevertheless, there are certain areas of the Vale of the White Horse, the valley containing and named after the enigmatic creature, from which an adequate impression may be gained. Indeed, on a clear day the carving can be seen from up to 18 miles away.

 Uffington White House Figure

The earliest documentary reference to a horse at Uffington is from the 1070s, when "White Horse Hill" is mentioned in the charters from the nearby Abingdon Abbey, and the first reference to the horse itself is soon after, in 1190. However, the carving is believed to date back much further than that. Due to the similarity of the Uffington White Horse to the stylized depictions of horses on first century B.C. Celtic coins, it had been thought that the creature must also date to that period. However, in 1995 Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) testing was carried out by the Oxford Archaeological Unit on soil sediments from two of the lower layers of the horse's body, and from another cut near the base. The result was a date for the horse's construction somewhere between 1400 and 600 B.C. In other words, it had a Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age origin. The latter end of this date range would tie the carving of the horse with occupation of the adjacent Uffington hillfort, and may perhaps represent a tribal emblem or symbol marking the land of the inhabitants of the hillfort.

Alternatively, the carving may have been created for ritual/religious purposes. Some see the horse as representing the Celtic horse goddess Epona, who was worshipped as a protector of horses, and also had associations with fertility. However, the cult of Epona was imported from Gaul (France) probably in the first century A.D., which is when we find the first depictions of the horse goddess. This date is at least six centuries after the Uffington Horse was carved. Nevertheless, the horse was of great ritual and economic importance during the Bronze and Iron Ages, as attested by its depictions on jewelry, coins, and other metal objects. Perhaps the carving represents a native British horsegoddess, such as Rhiannon, described in later Welsh mythology as a beautiful woman dressed in gold and riding a white horse. Others see the White Horse as connected with the worship of Belinos or Belinus, "the shining one," a Celtic Sun God often associated with horses. Bronze and Iron Age sun chariots (mythological representations of the sun in a chariot), were shown as being pulled by horses, as can be seen from the 14th century B.c. example from Trundholm in Denmark. If, as is now believed, Celtic culture had reached Britain by the very end of the Bronze Age, then the White Horse could still be interpreted as a Celtic horse-goddess symbol.

There are some who believe that the great carving does not represent a horse at all, but rather a dragon. A legend connected with Dragon Hill, a low natural flat-topped mound situated in the valley below the White Horse, suggests that the horse depicts the mythical dragon slain by St. George on that hill. The blood of the dying dragon was supposed to have been spilled on Dragon Hill, leaving a bare, white chalk scar where, to this day, no grass will grow. Perhaps the St. George connection with the White Horse is a confused memory of some strange prehistoric ritual performed on Dragon Hill by its creators, perhaps as long as 3,000 years ago. Up until the late 19th century the White horse was scoured every year, as part of a two day Midsummer country fair, which also included traditional games and merrymaking. Nowadays, the accompanying festival is gone, and the task of maintaining the horse is undertaken by English Heritage, the organization responsible for the site. The last scouring took place on June 24, 2000.

Hidden History: “Lost Civilizations, Secret Knowledge, and Ancient Mysteries” by Brian Haughton;

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