After many years of researching the Cerne Giant has been finally dated according to the University of Oxford.
Two academics from the University concluded that the Cerne Abbas Giant was originally carved as an image of Hercules!
With the purpose to mark a muster point for the West Saxon armies.
Later reinterpreted by the local monks of Cerne Abbas as being their Saint Eadwold.
However, research undertaken by Martin Papworth for the National Trust. Has showed that the Giant was carved in the Anglo-Saxon period.
And not, as most people thought, in prehistory.
Although the reason why he remained a mystery even into more recent times is still unkown.
Academics Helen Gittos and Tom Morcom, from the University of Oxford, have worked to uncover the early medieval history.
Cerne Giant Dorset Icon
Exploring the archaeology of the area in order to understand why this chalk hill figure was carved on the hillside. Of what is now a sleepy Dorset village.
Their research shows that he was originally carved as an image of the Classical hero Hercules. Providing a rallying point for mustering West Saxon armies. All at a time when Dorset was being attacked by Viking armies.
“It’s become clear that the Cerne Giant is just the most visible of a whole cluster of early medieval features in the landscape,” says Prof Helen.
Hercules was well-known in the Middle Ages. Being a flawed hero that was both revered and reviled. There was a particular spike of interest in him during the ninth century.
By at least the tenth century, Cerne was in the hands of the ealdormen of the Western Provinces. The kings’ leading thegns in the south-west. Thegns, a type of noble or land owner but not as high as an Earl for example.
Video: A recent make-over of the Giant.
The topographical location of the Giant. On a spur jutting out from a ridge. With impressive views. Plus proximity to major routeways. Is characteristic of a special type of Anglo-Saxon meeting place.
Cerne Giant Was Hercules
With attacks by Vikings nearby showed of such ongoing conflicts at that time. A rare find during the building of a new access road for the London 2012 Olympics sailing venue unearthed 50 executed Vikings. Discovery of a burial pit at Ridgeway 12 miles south of Cerne Abbas.
Access to copious fresh water and the supplies of the local estate. Make this an ideal place for mustering West Saxon armies with Hercules as a back-drop.
In the eleventh century, the monks worshipping in the monastery re-imagined him as an image of their saint, Eadwold.
Implicitly referring to the Giant in the lessons they read on his feast-day. This is one of the many ways the giant has been reinterpreted through the centuries.
“The Giant’s identity was already open to reinterpretation. The monks of Cerne wouldn’t have portrayed their patron saint as naked if they were carving him from scratch. However, they were happy to co-opt him as an image of Eadwold for their own purposes.
The Giant has long been loved and looked after. And such re-identifications continue into the present day,” says Tom Morcom. Postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oslo.
T. Morcom & H. Gittos, is published in Speculum the journal of the Medieval Academy of America, in the 1 January 2024 edition.