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21 August 2013
The elusive chalk carvings of Wanborough

Wanborough is a small village in Wiltshire (England), located close to the Roman Ermine Street and the current M4 Motorway. The Romans named the village Durocornovium but the current name has Saxon origins. In terms of history this would probably be enough for most villages, but Wanborough has a much older history.
     In 1966 an aerial photographic survey was carried out, to record the areas features before the M4 motorway was ploughed through the countryside. The negatives fro those surveys were never printed but simply stored away. Then, in 1974, they came into the possession of local archaeologist Bryn Walters, director of the Association for Roman Archaeology, who was examining the area for possible undiscovered archaeology. What he saw on the developed photographs proved to be quite astonishing. Staring back at him from a hillside was the faint image of not one, but two, giant chalk carvings. This type of carving has been found elsewhere, most notably at Uffington, as well as in Dorset and Sussex, carved into the chalk downs, but there was no record of any in this area.
     The first figure, believed to be approximately 60 metres high, is of a figure about to throw a spear. The second figure is over 85 metres high and is horned and believed to be a representation of Woden, the Norse God. It is thought that, although probably neglected and allowed to be overgrown, the figures were relatively untouched for thousands of years. Then, in 1940, to help boost domestic food production during the Second World War, the hillsides were intensively farmed and ploughed, thus aiding in the disappearance of the carvings and making them almost invisible.
     Although further attempts were made to photograph and scan the site, no current traces of either figure can now be found, as, like most hillside carvings, they were quite shallow. The original photographs have, however, been authenticated and any rumours of the images being a hoax have been dispelled. It is thought that the speared figure could date back to the Neolithic Age but there is no way of verifying. Bryn Walters voices the frustration of many when he said "For it to have survived as long as 5,000 years but to have been destroyed in recent years is maddening".

Edited from Swindon Advertiser (6 August 2013)

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