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30 October 2010
White Horse of Uffington: is it a dog?

It is one of Britain's most-loved ancient hill figures, leaping across the downland. Vets are now being urged to question whether the White Horse of Uffington was intended to be a horse at all. Retired veterinarian Olaf Swarbrick, challenging the traditional description of the Oxfordshire landmark, asks whether the figure might instead be a dog such as a greyhound or wolfhound.
     In a letter to the Veterinary Record, the former cattle and poultry specialist put forth a canine origin for the 110-metre by 38.5-metre animal, which was carefully dug into the downland. He invites alternative theories, as well. Swarbrick noted: "Looking at it again, it seems that it is not a horse at all: the tail and head are wrong for a horse and more suggestive of a dog. It appears more like a large hound at full stretch. I thought it may be a greyhound, but an anthropologist suggests it is a wolfhound, which (assuming it is not a horse) makes more sense."
     The horse, if it is indeed one, is approximately 3,000 years old, and dates from 1250-850 BCE. It was previously believed to be Anglo-Saxon in origin. "I was just saying it was not a horse which will perhaps infuriate some archaeologists," Swarbric ksaid. He added that other horse hill figures in Britain were "quite clearly horses", even if more recently constructed than the Uffington one.
     Keith Blaxhall, the National Trust warden for the area, was not convinced. "I think we all think it is a horse," he said, stating that coins from roughly the same period show a similarly stylised horse and chariot. "Horses were enormously important. It signified power. You were mobile." There have been claims that it might be St George's white charger, he said, but the figure long predated his era. The dog suggestion was a new one to him. "I have really only heard the theory it is feline because of its sinuous design." Blaxhall was unconcerned by the site's equine symbolism being doubted. "It is different things to different people. Who is really to know? It is prehistory. No one wrote anything down. It is just a magical place and people are drawn to it."

Edited from guardian.co.uk (12 October 2010)

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