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21 September 2008
Cerne Abbas giant restored by volunteers

The Cerne Abbas giant in verdant Dorset (England) is club-wielding figure, which is 180ft from head to toe and is administered by the National Trust, is carved into the hillside. It is finally due a makeover. Thirty volunteers are restoring the giant - infamous for its gargantuan genitalia - to its old glory, re-digging its silhouette, which has been blurred by overgrown weeds and the footprints of animals, and re-chalking its outline.
     Like several other chalk figures carved into the English countryside, the Cerne Abbas giant is often thought of as an ancient creation. Some say he is a pagan fertility symbol and that if a childless woman and her partner spend the night camping between the giant's legs, she will be a mother within two years. Others claim that the figure represents the Greek hero Hercules, who was often depicted with a club in his right hand. Either way, there are no documents mentioning the giant before 1694 - although medieval writers had written copious amounts about the hillside itself.
     Local records suggest that the giant was carved as late as the 17th century, during the Civil War, on the orders of the area's bigwig, Denzil Holles. It was intended as a cruel parody of Oliver Cromwell, who was sometimes referred to mockingly as England's Hercules. National Trust archaeologist Nancy Grace is enthralled by the ancient stories. "No one really knows when he first appeared," she says. "But it is true that written evidence points to the 17th century when he was created as a rude cartoon of Oliver Cromwell. He must have taken ages to carve."
     Mike Clarke, director of the National Trust, explained the makeover. Once the old chalk and detritus has been removed, 17 tons of sparkling new white chalk have been poured into the outline and then flattened. "It's been quite a job given his size and the fact his genitalia alone is 10ft long," he says. He explained that over time, pranksters have deliberately extended his manhood's length. The prudish Victorians, meanwhile, attempted to cover it up by planting a strategically placed bellybutton.

Source: Daily Mail, The Guardian (16 September 2008)

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