| 5 October 2003
Prehistoric Long Man is only 5-century old
The origins of England's tallest chalk hill figure, the Long Man of Wilmington, have puzzled historians and archaeologists for generations. Carved into a steep slope on the South Downs in Sussex, the imposing figure has been claimed as an Anglo Saxon warrior, a Roman folly and an Iron Age fertility symbol. But according to a team of researchers, the Long Man may be a relatively recent addition to the landscape. Tests carried out this summer have produced compelling evidence that it dates from the mid-16th century.
The findings have surprised the experts and will cast doubt on the age of other supposedly prehistoric carvings, including the Cerne Abbas giant in Dorset. Standing 226 feet tall, the Long Man of Wilmington is one of the largest carved figures in the world. It dominates the grassy downland at the village of Wilmington near Eastbourne, holding a stave in each hand. Although the earliest known record of the figure comes from 1710, many scholars have argued that it already existed when the Romans invaded Britain.
The new findings come from a team of researchers led by Prof Martin Bell, an environmental archaeologist at Reading University. "I didn't expect this date at all," Prof Bell told The Daily Telegraph yesterday. "I expected it to be no later than Anglo Saxon." Prof Bell's conclusions come from an analysis of chalk fragments washed down the slope over the past few thousand years. The analysis revealed little activity on the hillside during the Iron Age, Roman occupation or Medieval times. But about 500 years ago there was a sudden change when a layer of chalk rubble swept down the slope. Prof Bell believes that the chalk debris may have been come from the freshly cut Long Man.
Source: BBC News (2 October 2003)
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